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"Music is something essential: for me, it's the heart and soul of the film"

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Nils Gaup • Director


- Cineuropa met up with Norwegian director Nils Gaup, whose eighth feature film, The Last King, has just hit cinemas in Norway

Nils Gaup  • Director

At a café in Grünerløkka, a neighbourhood in Oslo’s centre, on a bitingly cold day, Nils Gaup, a Kautokeino native, agreed to meet up with Cineuropa to discuss his eighth feature-length film, The Last King [+see also:
interview: Nils Gaup
film profile
, which had a budget of around €5,000,000. This urban location was chosen by the man himself, a self-professed lover of nature – in particular, what he calls the magical countryside of Finnmark, his birth town. The film was produced by Paradox Spillefilm.

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Cineuropa: Who was behind this film's conception?
Nils Gaup: That would be the producer, Finn Gjerdrum: he was the one who first had the idea. He lives in Lillehammer, so he knows a lot about the Birkebeinerrennet, a 54 km cross-country skiing marathon between Rena and Lillehammer. It has taken place annually since 1932 and is a celebration of the Birkebeiner legend, the main subject of my film. I was quick to accept his proposition because, like many other Norwegians, I am quite attached to this tale, immortalised by Knud Bergslien's well-known 1869 painting.

You use the word legend...
Yes, because this is a saga, a tale of sublime and heroic characters, and it's not just a simple narrative, a faithful report. It is a legend even though all of the events truly occurred and it dates back to 1204; the middle of a civil war that had been raging for 30 years. It inspired me to make an action film, a kind of "snow western" with Viking skiers taking part in a nail-biting high-speed chase. It required more than 500 extras and something like 100 Icelandic horses. The plot is relatively simple: the "bad guys", the Bagler, want to kill a child, a crown prince perceived as a potential threat, while the "good guys", the Birkebeiner, want to protect him and to make a saviour out of this child, a future king. From there, we can already see an allusion to the Bible and another, extraordinarily well-known newborn.

Birkebeiner... What does that name mean?
This name, or rather, this nickname, is taken from the birch bark that the impoverished Birkebeiner would wrap around their legs to protect themselves from the harsh environment. For the roles of Torstein Skjevla and Skjervald Skrukka, the most famous Birkebeiner, I chose to cast two well-known Norwegian actors: Kristofer Hivju, who you may have seen in Game of Thrones, and Jakob Oftebro, known best for his role in Kon-Tiki [+see also:
film review
film profile
. The Bagler faction is led by Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas. And then there's little Jonathan, who was nine months old at the start of filming; he plays the role of Håkon. We chose him from hundreds of babies, and he took everything really well, being carried around in a bag, on the back of a snowmobile, all the bad weather and the other hazards of filming. He's a real charmer, too! He had the entire crew spoiling him. I have to say that, wherever possible, we stuck to his life's rhythm.

Does music play an important role in The Last King?
It's something essential: for me, it's the heart and soul of the film. It's almost like the carpet, both there and not there, discreet, yet deeply felt. I did a lot of work with Gaute Storaas, the composer. We started off by talking about the different feelings and emotions that the script and dialogues, written by Ravn Lanesskog, stirred in all of us. Next, we worked out a rough draft of what we wanted for the music, with extracts borrowed from different works, before Gaute set himself to composing the score. Then, so that anyone watching, whether they were experts or not, could understand immediately that the music comes from a different culture and a different age, we decided to use 13th-century Norwegian instruments like the nyckelharpa and the bukkehorn, a type of hunting horn. The main musical theme follows the young child. Naturally, it is an adaptive theme, changing to suit whatever is going on. As well as this, singer Helene Bøksle's voice, with its unique timbre, contributes to giving this film its identity and authenticity. The film's soundtrack was recorded in Slovakia with the Bratislava String Orchestra.

Why did you decide to make this film?
The reason behind my decision to turn this epic tale, with all its twists and turns, into a film, is the hope that I can surprise and excite younger audiences just as much as audiences of history lovers. The younger generation is impatient, easily bored and prone to channel surfing when watching TV, whereas history buffs enjoy being immersed in familiar landscapes, in a universe they feel is similar to theirs.

(Translated from French)

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