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Michael Noer • Director

“Reality becomes a natural prerequisite for my fictional stories”


- 34-year-old Danish director signed several documentaries before he collaborated with Tobias Lindholm on his first feature, R. He is now back with Northwest.

Michael Noer • Director

Cineuropa: What is it with you and criminals? In your first feature, R [+see also:
film profile
, they are behind bars, without much power, and in Northwest [+see also:
film review
interview: Michael Noer
film profile
they walk freely around?

Michael Noer: It is not so much the criminal environment that occupies me, rather the brotherhood that develops between people who ‘happen’ to be criminal. It is more a question of describing what an environment can do to these young men, and maybe suggest why it goes so wrong, as it sometimes does.

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Is there anything in the world of crime that offers better opportunities to tell a story?
Not necessarily, but the situation was that I had met people with roots in this particular environment, and these people have made facets or situations or their whole lives and destinies available to me and my fictional stories.

Which story was it you wanted to tell – why young people become involved in crime?
I wanted to show how bad things can get when the tiniest cog wheel in the machine begins to run at its own speed, or when a small glow ignites an environment and sets an entire neighborhood on fire.

Gangster films have no great tradition in Denmark. What is the reason?
Part of the explanation may be that we have not had any awareness of the gangster phenomenon in Denmark. Probably reality and the recent escalation of problems in the Danish cities have awakened us from our slumber.

The underworld in Northwest: was it just around the corner, or did you have to do a lot of research?
The criminal underworld is just around the corner, but it is not a neighbourhood that I would naturally seek out. Still, it is important for me to emphasise that Northwest is not a defined geographical area or identical to the Copenhagen suburb of the same name. Northwest is a direction, a milieu, a phenomenon ... it is east, west, north and south of Copenhagen, Berlin, Stockholm, Paris, Amsterdam and Athens ... it is universal.

Could the events and the people in the film be directly connected to real life?
They are all fictional characters, small mosaics composed of fate stories, memories and observations. So you will not find Casper somewhere out there, but you are guaranteed to find several people who can recognise characteristics and situations from Casper’s performance in the film.

You stayed with them during the filming?
The two brothers lived with all of us in the apartment, which also provided the home for the film. We literally moved in and 'played' family on our location. During the day we shot the film, and in the evening we hang out with the kids on the streets and in the youth club. In the beginning we were considered 'strangers', but after a week we were already part of the environment.

Does it influence your approch to the material that you were originally a documentary filmmaker?
Yes, I am concerned with reality, and reality becomes a natural prerequisite for my fictional stories. I wrote this film with Rasmus Heisterberg (A Royal Affair [+see also:
film review
interview: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
interview: Nikolaj Arcel
film profile
), because I am a great admirer of him and his incredible flair for creating plots and characters.

How did you cast the film, and why did you choose non-professional actors as the two brothers?
Had I asked two professional actors to 'play' brothers, I would have had a totally different expression. By choosing Gustav and Oscar I had, from the very beginning, a mood of confidence and belonging between the characters ... you trust them, and no one can doubt they really are brothers.

Any moral in the classic sense to be drawn from the open ending?
I saw no reason to map out a moral or an ending – the conclusion is tough and almost identical to life: there is an open ending to the film, and presumably to life, too.

Your next project – more criminals?
My next film is in a completely different ballgame – when I announce it, most people will shake their heads and say it is impossible. But I believe that great stories arise from the confrontation of diversities, and I guarantee you that this is one of them.

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