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"I think I’ve made a bittersweet comedy imbued with magical realism"

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Torfinn Iversen • Director

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- Cineuropa met up with Norwegian director Torfinn Iversen to talk about Oskar's America, which is being released in Norway on 24 March after world-premiering in Berlin's Generation section

Torfinn Iversen • Director

Audiences at the BUFF, Scandinavia’s most important international festival for young audiences, which has taken place in Malmö, Sweden, since 1984, were recently treated to Oskar’s America [+see also:
trailer
interview: Torfinn Iversen
film profile
]
, the gathering’s opening film, a few days prior to its Norwegian premiere. The movie’s world premiere took place not too long ago, at the Berlinale, where it was selected for the section dedicated to youngsters, within the Generation Kplus sidebar. Its director is Norwegian filmmaker Torfinn Iversen, whom Cineuropa met as he was passing through Oslo.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: How did your film come about?
Torfinn Iversen: Oskar’s America is rooted in my 2012 short film Levi’s Horse, where Jørgen Langhelle already played Levi. Mona Steffensen, the film’s producer, whose company Original Film is based in Tromsø, supported me during the lengthy development process. At that time, not a single original screenplay had been written for young audiences for six years. In general, most of the films in this genre are based on literary works and successful books, which is less of a risky strategy for producers and distributors. Winning the Eurimages Development Award in 2014 and, at the same time, trying our project out in an international context made us more confident.

What is Oskar’s America about?
At the heart of the story lies this unusual friendship between ten-year-old Oskar and Levi, a non-conformist who is a little simple-minded and is often the butt of the sarcastic remarks of those around him. He lives with his best friend, Horse, a white pony who is sweet, gentle and short-sighted, and who munches on grass and popcorn. Oskar, who has been entrusted to his grumpy grandfather (Bjørn Sundquist) by his mother, played by Marie Blokhus, dreams of going off to find her in America. And Levi, who has his own problems, helps him to plan his journey – by rowing across the Atlantic... with Horse, of course. Getting a pony inside a tiny rowing boat is not easy, and shooting that scene took us a hell of a long time!

Crossing the Atlantic in a rowing boat? That’s an interesting plan...
And yet it was achieved for the first time in 1896 by George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, two Americans of Norwegian heritage. After leaving from New York, they succeeded in rowing across the Atlantic: they spent 55 days at sea before reaching Europe. That’s the true story that served as my inspiration. Incidentally, the song in the film also talks about their feat. The Ballad of Harbo and Samuelsen was composed by Jerry Bryant, and Levi manages to sing it without stumbling over the words, whereas he usually has a stutter.

And what about the film score?
We have Ola Fløttum to thank for that – he composed tunes in sad-sounding keys, but they nonetheless had something lively and dynamic about them. Through his compositions, he also really contributed to fleshing out the characters, and he brought more depth and perspective to the film. The sound work by Øyvind Planting was just as invaluable, as was the job done by editor Arild Tryggestad, who helped me to cut the 150 minutes of raw footage down to 80 minutes, a painful but essential process.

Was it easy to find the actor who plays Oskar?
We had to organise various auditions before we found our Oskar, who turned out to be the young and talented Odin Eikre. All the actors are from Northern Norway, apart from Jørgen Langhelle, who had to learn the local accent from that region. Authenticity was one of my biggest concerns, but I didn’t want to eclipse the universal aspect of the story.

Do you see any differences between youth-orientated films from Scandinavia and those from other countries?
I think that we show off our audacity and maturity more often in Scandinavia. I was bowled over by the Swedish film The Brothers Lionheart, adapted from a book by Astrid Lindgren, a Swedish film that I saw when I was very young.

That’s a film with some serious subject matter.
That’s true. Taking children seriously while entertaining them at the same time is important for me. That’s probably why I wanted to make a film where children would be able to recognise themselves just as much as the adults would. Oskar’s America is simultaneously a feel-good and a feel-bad film.

Life is never a complete bed of roses.
Indeed; there’s no lack of ambiguity. How do we cope with existential problems? How do we overcome the obstacles we are faced with? It’s pointless trying to bury our heads in the sand. If we persevere, we end up finding solutions, and if we have a sense of humour, we can strike a kind of balance. I think I’ve made a realistic film with a few hints of surrealism, a bittersweet comedy imbued with magical realism – a fable in some ways.

(Translated from French)

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