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Alexandra-Therese Keining • Director of The Average Color of the Universe

“My films seem to grow quieter each time”


- We sat down with Swedish director Alexandra-Therese Keining to discuss her small film about grand schemes The Average Color of the Universe

Alexandra-Therese Keining  • Director of The Average Color of the Universe
(© Karolina Pajak)

We talked to Swedish director Alexandra-Therese Keining to gain an insight into how she makes small films about grand schemes and to discuss the thin line between loss and laughter, both explored in the Göteborg-screened The Average Color of the Universe [+see also:
film review
interview: Alexandra-Therese Keining
film profile

Cineuropa: The Average Color of the Universe is quite different from your previous film, Girls Lost [+see also:
film profile
. How did you move from one to the other?
Alexandra-Therese Keining:
After Girls Lost, I felt like doing something smaller, something short and experimental. A couple of years ago, I read about the scientific attempt to calculate the average colour of the universe. All my life, I’ve been deeply fascinated with colours – my mother was a painter ­– in a way that others may be with music, for example. I was knocked out by the outrageousness of it: the enormity of it all while I’m here, so very small, in this grand scheme of things. Out of this came a concept that eventually fell into place.

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It’s a film about secretive grief, but it’s narrated with great integrity. Was it hard for you to realise, let alone pitch?
My films seem to grow quieter each time. My scripts can be ever so wordy, but at the editing table, I cut out a lot of dialogue so that the images will have to speak for themselves. It’s a process I’m very fond of and a cool challenge. A slightly less pleasurable process was presenting this film at the film institute in order to get funding. It did not go down terribly well. The commissioner didn’t get my idea regarding the theme of grief and also found the main character not very likeable. The film is independently produced, and I shot in three days with a minimal team: a cinematographer, a sound engineer and the actors, including my own infant son. No one got paid; everyone did it for the good of the project. Afterwards, we did get post funding, but of course we were never able to count on anything beforehand.

Jennie Silfverhjelm, the leading actress, carries quite a weight. What was her experience of the shoot?
She told me she had never been so exhausted afterwards, and that she had gone out like a light and slept like a baby at night. During the shoot, though, she was full-on. “Let’s do another take, don’t worry. Okay, what’s next?” and so on. She instantly warmed to the script I sent her, which was more a display of a state of mind than a regular script. And although it may sound absurd, the shoot was – contrary to its theme – very joyful. We laughed a lot between takes and spent the evenings together feeling thoroughly blissful. That’s possibly because grief is so close to laughter, in that you need laughter in order to cope with the loss. Or, in Jennie’s case, coping with rolling around in bed crying and screaming or walking around the house all alone with no one to interact with.

Is there a common denominator in your work thus far?
Probably that I’m driven by lust… After Girls Lost, I got an American agent who sent me a bunch of offers, and I found a lot of it to be garbage. If I’m spending three years on something, it’s got to be driven by lust. If it isn’t there, I won’t be tagging along for the ride. As for recurring themes, I often return to a melancholic tone in my films. I became a parent recently, and with that came a clearer insight into my past and my childhood – I lost both my parents at an early age – and I felt I was in a very good and safe place in order to process my journey. Grief, as I see it, is not just darkness, but also something positive, a part of one’s personality.

A forthcoming project of yours will be your first in English. What can you say about it so far?
It’s called Paramour, and it’s for Sony Pictures. It will star Kristin Scott-Thomas as Susanne Klatten, the BMW heiress, and will be about her relationship with the Swiss playboy who tried to swindle her. It’s been in development for a while now, but as soon as everything is in place, I’ll be raring to go. I look forward to working in English and with Kristin, who is quite fantastic.

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