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Bård Breien • Director

A detective’s quiet radiance


- Norwegian director Bård Breien talks about Detective Downs

Bård Breien • Director

Detective Downs [+see also:
film profile
, whose main actor, Svein André Hofsø, won the Best Actor Award at the Austin Fantastic Film Festival, is being released in Norwegian theatres this week. Cineuropa met the director Bård Breien, who signed his second feature produced by Norwegian company Friland Produksjon with the backing of Eurimages.

Cineuropa: Detective Downs is a film of a slightly peculiar genre.
Bård Breien:
 Yes, it’s a film noir in which the hero, as well as the actor, has Down syndrome.

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Why did you make this choice?
There are so many standardized films, TV shows lacking originality, that one day, as a joke, I said I would shoot a detective movie with an actor suffering from Down syndrome. With this joke, a challenge was born. That being said, I love old classics, Hitchcock amongst others, but also novels by Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler whose The big sleep inspired a film by Howard Hawks with Humphrey Bogart.

Bogart actually seems to be your hero’s idol, Robert Bogerud.
That’s exact: same trench coat, same hat. Robert wants to be a detective, even if his dad, a policeman himself, doesn’t believe in his talent. No one wants to work with him, until a family needs his services.

To solve…
No in fact, not to solve a puzzle, a mysterious disappearance, because this unusual family who lives in troubled waters believes our young detective is incompetent and harmless. Robert however takes the matter at heart, literally, as he always follows his feelings, and moreover proves to be subtle and full of perseverance, qualities most people lack.

Did you discover Svein André Hofsø?
Yes, I wanted to do the casting myself, because the topic is delicate especially since the film is humorous, there are comic elements. I wanted to avoid mockery and contempt as well as pity. I feared potential misunderstandings. I thus dedicated a lot of time to auditions, but as soon as I saw Svein André, I knew it had to be him: he had the deep and melancholic stare that I was looking for, the quiet radiance of the character, who is also the narrator. And he is truly talented as an actor.  

You wrote the screenplay?
I created the story and wrote the dialogue with Danish screenwriter Eske Troelstrup. We had already worked together on my first feature The Art of Negative Thinking. The first of a dozen drafts was unveiled in Seville; it was the beginning of a long but fascinating process. Eighteen months later, the screenplay was finished and we started filming, with Norwegian cinematographer Gaute Gunnari, who also worked on my first feature. We had to retake many scenes, but motivation was always present. Svein André really worked a lot, the preparation was incredibly precise, but in the dance scene for instance, he was able to act freely, and the first shot was perfect.

Where did the filming take place?
In Prague, because I wanted to create a different Oslo, bathed in a surreal atmosphere. This mood is enhanced by the music by Danish composer Chris Minh Doky, an enlightened musician who masters all styles of jazz. And since my first film did very well there, I had Czech financial backing. We filmed in studios, outdoors and also in a big town near Prague.  

Vienna, the city where The Third Man by Carol Reed takes place, undoubtedly inspired you.
A little, for the light, the chiaroscuro, because the intrigue in my film is a detective story, with bits of parody. But the psychology of the characters has its place, and if Robert plays detective, it is also to get closer to his dad, a widower, who neglects him a little.

Was it difficult to find the necessary funding?
At first, yes. Some financiers were reticent because they feared it might be tasteless, others were worried the main actor wouldn’t be treated decently. But once the project was accepted in Norway, with the help of the Norwegian Film Institute, the situation got better on the international level.

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(Translated from French)

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