Jonas Alexander Arnby • Director
"Honestly, I do find kitchen-sink realism a little boring"
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
- The Danish director talks about When Animals Dream, his feature debut discovered in competition during Cannes Critic's Week 2014.
"I could not have wished for a better launching platform, nor more attention – werewolves are rarely associated with Cannes," said Danish director Jonas Alexander Arnby, whose feature debut, When Animals Dream [+see also:
interview: Jonas Alexander Arnby
film profile], was selected for this year’s Critics’ Week . But in spite of the beast, "I hope people will understand that this is not an action-packed horror film, but a portrait of a generation and a depiction of a character," he added.
Scripted by Arnby and Rasmus Birch, the Ditte Milsted and Caroline Schlüter Bingestam production for Copenhagen’s Alphaville stars newcomer Sonia Suhl as 16-year-old Marie, living with her parents in an isolated village on a small island off the west coast of Denmark. Nordisk Film Biografdistribution will release the film domestically on 12 June.
Cineuropa: What made you decide in the first place that film was your future?
Jonas Alexander Arnby: Since I was 11, I have been interested in photography – then, after high school, I landed a job on a film production, which was an eye-opener. It was pure magic, not only in terms of the joint ambition of the cast and crew, but also the way of telling a story. My focus shifted from photography to film.
And why not the Danish National Film School, but rather Copenhagen’s alternative Super16?
It is no secret that I tried to get into film schools in the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, but without any luck. Then, after having lived in London, I started at Super16 in its second year and dropped the idea of any other film school – this was a community of directors and producers who were their own engines, creating their own future. During the day I made commercials, and in the evening I took the education we agreed on.
You have worked twice on Lars von Trier films. What did you learn from that?
Mostly how to clean, and how to drive a van.
Now onto your own first feature – did you originally intend to mix genres in When Animals Dream?
No, we wanted to tell a coming-of-age story in a small fishing community – a young girl’s break with her surroundings, her life, her feelings. But then came the werewolf, then came horror... You almost have to see the film to understand why. The werewolf represents the animalistic side of the human character, the dark side with sexuality, aggression, charged emotions, which match a young girl about to become a woman – and interestingly in this case, the wild beast is lived out by a fragile girl.
So who is she?
Marie lives on an island somewhere in Denmark. She is very much her own, both in terms of her appearance and her mentality, which is not tolerated by her surroundings – and the more she resists, the stronger the pressure from outside. Her mother was the same, and gradually Marie realises that she has not only inherited her place in society, but also her illness, which gets worse under pressure.
Was it difficult to cast?
We auditioned more than 400 girls in Northern Jutland– we needed someone who knew the milieu and could stand the stink of fish; there is not much room for caffe latte or sushi in this role. I immediately fell for Sonia Suhl, who was beautiful in a different way, very careful, very innocent – and who was obviously carrying a secret. The fact that her father was a fisherman in Hanstholm, and that she had herself worked at a fish factory, made the choice obvious. The big question was whether she also had a werewolf in her – she had never acted before, so it took a year of training, without ruining her innocence. Lars Mikkelsen and Sonja Richter are to me the most interesting actors in Denmark, so they became her parents (and I am sure that if they ever had a daughter together, she would look like her).
Do you intend to further develop this cinematic language?
It is always the story that dictates how to visualise it, so let's talk about that again after my next film – I am considering a love story and a thriller, and some American projects. But honestly, I do find kitchen-sink drama a little boring.
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