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KARLOVY VARY 2019 East of the West

Martti Helde • Director of Scandinavian Silence

"If you have all the options, tools and creative choices in the world, it’s not really a creative process"

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- Estonian director Martti Helde discusses the challenges of making his sophomore effort, Scandinavian Silence, screening in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West competition

Martti Helde  • Director of Scandinavian Silence

The second feature by Estonian director Martti Helde has been eagerly anticipated ever since In the Crosswind [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Martti Helde
interview: Martti Helde
film profile
]
became a striking success on the festival circuit – including wins at the likes of Göteborg, Tallinn, Beijing and Warsaw. After screening domestically and showing in Shanghai, Scandinavian Silence [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Martti Helde
film profile
]
has just had its European premiere in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West competition.

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The movie stars Reimo Sagor and Rea Lest – both now established stars in Estonia, with Lest being an EFP Shooting Star this year – as siblings who find themselves driving across snowy wastelands as they slowly uncover the secrets of their past. Filmed from different perspectives, the movie revels in long sections in which one character speaks while the other stays silent. We asked Helde about the challenges of making the film and asking his actors to be quiet.

Cineuropa: Looking at a story from different perspectives has been explored on screen in the past, in the likes of Rashomon and Fight Club. Were there any cinematic touchstones that inspired you in Scandinavian Silence?
Martti Helde:
For me, there were no direct influences. I was intrigued by the opportunity to view one story from different perspectives. Often, art forms don’t offer us this chance. I felt that this approach and form could offer objectivity that would allow the viewer to create personal connections. It’s like an invitation for the audience to work together.

Your most recent films, both features and shorts, have been in black and white. What appeals to you about making movies like this?
I’ve often asked myself the same question, and so far, no concrete answer has come to me. When creating my works, I approach them through form. I feel the film as a whole and its form before everything else comes. To me, the audiovisual form and image are a reflection of the content, and those two come to life independently of one another.

How did you come to cast Rea and Reimo in the leads?
They were in drama school, and it was their first film project when I contacted them. We made this kind of trailer with them – I think it must have been in 2012 or 2013. I just wanted to have people who had been working together. The years went by, and they became famous – for Reimo, it was his first film, and for Rea it was her second, but as it took three years, all of their other movies came out before this one. I was thinking that maybe we would change the actors. In the end, we decided that they had been with the idea since the beginning and they were so into it, so I didn’t want to destroy all of that. They had been studying together, plus they had exactly the same birthday – same day, same year – so they knew each other. They were kind of edgy.

Did they find it difficult? I know telling some actors to be silent is anathema to them…
It was difficult for both sides because you run out of ideas in the end, and physically, you don’t have any ways to express yourself – only your eyes or your hands, maybe. You’re taking all the playfulness and options away. For me, it’s liberating, though. If you have all the options, all the tools and all the creative choices in the world, it’s not really a creative process. If you eliminate most of the options, it’s really easy to let yourself go and just be free in those circumstances. I like this kind of pressure.

Given that much of the film was shot in a car, it must also have been difficult, physically speaking…
Technically, it was really difficult. The actors were in a car, which in turn was on a trailer. Even physically, for me as a director, it was really hard because they were inside and I could only see them with the monitor. We were driving behind the main car, so I was 100 metres behind, just with the wireless picture. One take took about one hour. We had the safety car, then the main car, the director’s car and the other safety car. I don’t recommend this kind of shooting.

There are moments when you have grand, sweeping shots of the winter landscapes. Why did you choose to add these, in contrast with the small, intimate feeling of the film?
All of the scenes of nature and the aerial shots came much later on because in the middle of the process, we saw that the film was getting really claustrophobic. We realised that we needed something to counteract that. The key was the sentence where the female lead says, “I feel that our parents, they’re watching us from above.” We wanted to add something that would be the exact opposite of the atmosphere that they have between them, so it would be as free and dynamic as possible.

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