IFFR 2023 Big Screen Competition
Martin Skovbjerg • Director of Copenhagen Does Not Exist
"Everyone sees something unique and relates differently to it"
by Teresa Vena
- We talked to the filmmaker about his film, how it depicts the power of memories and how grief alters our reality
Martin Skovbjerg presents with Copenhagen Does Not Exist [+see also:
interview: Martin Skovbjerg
film profile] in the Big Screen Competition at the International Film Festival Rotterdam a particularly intriguing drama-thriller about the power of love and memories. We spoke to the director about the script on which the film is based as well as about his main protagonist.
Cineuropa: The film is based on a novel. Could you tell us more about it and what you liked so much about it?
Martin Skovbjerg: The novel with the title “Sander” has been written by Norwegian author Terje Holtet Larsen. It's Eskil Vogt (The Innocents [+see also:
interview: Eskil Vogt
film profile], The Worst Person in the World [+see also:
interview: Joachim Trier
film profile]), a close friend to the author of the novel, who wrote the screenplay. I had been asked by my producer if I'd like to direct the story. I read the script and liked it very much. To this day I still haven't read the original novel. My main actor Jonas Holst has read both and says that he thinks they are very similar. For me, the script is the source I wanted to concentrate on. I was eager to try to visualise the feelings it talks about. I like the intensity of the script. While reading it for the first time, I never knew what would come on the next page. About the story, I like this wish to disconnect with the world. One of the characters tries to disappear from it. Moreover, the script allows us to question ourselves. It offers us to look at the world, and ask whether it's really there we want to be. It's ok to say yes to our society with its materialistic norms, but I think at least once in life, we should be asking ourselves if we are really doing what we want to do.
Did you always want to stick to only one narrative perspective, namely that from the male protagonist?
We see the female character only through his eyes and that means that it will never be the real her. When people pass away, they become a story. A story that changes every time you tell it. I wanted to visualise what happens when someone starts to question your stories. Your memories and stories change. Sander, the male protagonist, wants to make a beautiful picture of her. But then, slowly, he starts to open up to all the bad stuff that might also be true about her. There is one special scene, when the father of the girl says that his daughter was limping. First, Sander says that it's not true. Then, when they keep talking, he says, of course she was limping, but nobody could see it. He tried to kill that knowledge about her. Sticking to his perspective was a way to show how we build memories around people.
Did you do any particular research in order to understand the characters?
I worked closely with Jonas Holst and Angela Schmidt who play them. We used their experiences to build the characters. We concentrated on the feelings. I didn't want to put any labels on them, I didn't to define a particular condition for her, since we don't really know what she is. We see her only through his mind or the mind of her father. She is what they made out of her. The scriptwriter is not into getting answers for everything. We are clashing with these people for two hours and then depart again. Everyone sees something unique and relates differently to it.
Why did you chose Jonas Holst as the protagonist?
Jonas is a non-professional actor, but he filled the character with his own experiences from his youth.
I never really knew what I loved about Jonas so much. I then found out. His character is not a very likeable one. But when he closes his eyes and he thinks of her, you see that he is a nice person. Jonas is able to show all the love for another character only by closing his eyes. He gave everything of himself in every scene.
The editing process must have been very challenging
It was crazy. It is a movie about memories. You can start and stop the movie at any point. It was fluid. But since it's very well scripted, the closer we were to the script, the easier it was to find guidance. We still tried nearly everything to show how people change through memories. Normally when you have a flashback, it's mostly to show the truth. Our flashbacks were in his mind, and what they show keeps changing through the movie.
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