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IFFR 2021 Limelight

Anders Thomas Jensen • Director of Riders of Justice

“I love awkward situations, like when you have a funeral and everyone starts laughing”

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- We talked to the director of the 2021 IFFR opening title, fresh off its wins at Denmark's Robert Awards

Anders Thomas Jensen • Director of Riders of Justice
(© Anders Overgaard)

The recipient of four Robert Awards, for Best Score and Best Visual Effects, as well as for Lars Brygmann and Andrea Heick Gadeberg's acting chops (see the news), Riders of Justice [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Anders Thomas Jensen
film profile
]
starts with a stolen bike and a train accident. Two data analysts try to make sense of it, with the help of professional soldier Markus (Mads Mikkelsen). What could possibly go wrong? We talked to director Anders Thomas Jensen after its screening at IFFR.

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Cineuropa: You must have had a lot of fun creating this universe. Just when things are about to return to normal, someone called Emmenthaler shows up.
Anders Thomas Jensen: That's what I do. That's what I have always done [Jensen also directed Men & Chicken [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Adam's Apples [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Anders Thomas Jensen
interview: Mads Mikkelsen
interview: Tivi Magnusson
film profile
]
], but what was different this time was me trying to make a real drama and merge it with my aesthetic. Mads and Mathilde's characters are almost “socially realistic”: you could picture them in some TV show on a Sunday night. The others, well, they are normal, for me. I like outcasts that are violent and brilliant in a way – and in a way, not brilliant at all. Then, in the middle, we have someone like Otto [played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas], and he was the glue. If he didn’t “work”, the film would fall apart. He makes you believe that all these people belong in the same movie.

When everything is so strange, sometimes the acting reflects it as well. Here, the acting feels real; Mads' pain feels real.
I think we landed in a good place where we are able to laugh at something crazy, and then experience a completely different emotion. It was hard work, especially during the editing. Nikolas was much more fun, for example, but we had to trim that down in order to bring the father-daughter story in. We spent all our time on this, on finding the right balance, but it's so great when it works. At first, I had three different stories: an action movie, a drama and a crazy comedy.

It seems that many people are not too happy when they can't tell what it is they are watching. Is this something you have experienced? Also considering that your brand of humour is very peculiar?
In real life and in cinema, the best thing is when I don't know if I should laugh or cry. I love that! I love awkward situations, like when you have a funeral and everyone starts laughing. A lot of times, life and movies can be so predictable: you know exactly what people are going to say. I prefer to feel uncomfortable. “Should I laugh? Or should I be embarrassed when I do, because the next scene is so dark?” Like when Lars runs out to the field and takes off his pants. I love seeing it with an audience because they start laughing, and then they go: “Oh my God.”

I am not a politician – I am an artist, and I believe that you can't get offended by a film. It's fiction. In America, people get confused sometimes, but in Denmark, I don't think that happens. It's true that some like to know exactly what they are getting: I like to be surprised. Not when I am ordering food, though. That's when I need to know.

You mentioned this action element in the film, and it's certainly there: like Ocean's Eleven for dummies, but bloodier.
If you set out to do something, you have to do it – you can't have a character who is a soldier and then just stop halfway. You have to show him like he's Bruce Willis, and believe in it. When you have a story that's strong, and everything your characters do is integrated into it, you can do outrageous things and people will still accept it. We set up a universe revolving around the meaning of life, which is a big question. There are different ways of finding it, and revenge is one of them. So if one character opts for that, you have to let him have it. We want him to succeed in killing these guys, also because Mads is so good. You go: “Yeah, go and kill some more!” Which is terrible, of course [laughs].

According to the “butterfly effect”, the flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a typhoon. Why did you want to play with this concept?
I truly believe that every conspiracy theorist is a little child, looking for meaning. There’s alcohol, pills and looking for connections where there are none – that's what gets you out of bed in the morning if you are depressed. Or there’s coming together as a family, surrounding yourself with the people you love. Which, as this film shows, is probably the best way.

We know that life is meaningless, so what gives you purpose? You work, you earn money, you feed your kids. This brings satisfaction to your brain. All my films are about outcasts, and I always show them creating a parallel society where they can take care of each other. There is something nice about it, also because you find out that they have all lost their families, in one way or another. It doesn't really sound like a comedy [laughs]. It's pretty dark stuff!

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