Pernille Fischer Christensen • Director
“If it hadn’t been for Pippi, I wouldn’t be a director”
by Marta Bałaga
- BERLIN 2018: Danish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen talked to Cineuropa about Becoming Astrid, presented in this year’s Berlinale Special
After winning a Silver Bear for A Soap [+see also:
interview: Lars Bredo Rahbek
interview: Pernille Fischer Christensen
film profile] and a FIPRESCI Prize for A Family [+see also:
film profile], Pernille Fischer Christensen is back at the Berlin Film Festival with Becoming Astrid [+see also:
interview: Alba August
interview: Pernille Fischer Christensen
film profile], a film about the youth of legendary children’s writer Astrid Lindgren, played by Alba August.
Cineuropa: Astrid Lindgren wasn’t just a writer; she was an icon. And yet I heard it wasn’t easy to convince people that her story was actually worth telling.
Pernille Fischer Christensen: When we tried to secure financing, I kept hearing that nobody wanted to see a film about motherhood. “We don’t think it’s very commercial” – and it was actually a woman who said that. But what is [Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s] The Revenant really about? It’s about a father losing his son, and yet it’s seen in a completely different way. For female filmmakers, there is a difference between stories that we want to tell and the ones that we can. I have been doing it for more than 20 years, but it might finally be changing. I really hope it does – also for the sake of my children.
I come from a generation that grew up on Astrid’s books, and yet I know nothing about her. Did you?
I didn’t know this story either. A few years ago, I was reading a newspaper, and there was this photo of Astrid holding her son’s hand. It said: “Astrid and little Lasse in Copenhagen.” I thought: “Why are they there?” Later on, I bought a book about her life for my mother. I saw a picture of a very fragile, maybe even depressed, young woman. I started to wonder where all that sorrow came from. She seemed completely introverted, and that was not the Astrid Lindgren I knew. So I started reading her letters and all the books written about her. I was trying to find her essence.
Although her pregnancy out of wedlock was considered scandalous at the time, you still show there was a lot of love in her family.
She actually wrote a book about her parents. Her father waited for her mother for five years. He was so in love with her, and before he died, he said: “What a wonderful mother you had!” She saw her parents touching, she read their love letters. I don’t think she could have written with such warmth if there hadn’t been love in their house.
Astrid talked a lot about her childhood, because obviously it inspired her. But she didn’t talk that much about having a child, and I think you can understand why. It’s not something you just go and share with the public. She became famous when Pippi Longstocking became a big success, but that was 20 years after when our movie is set. She couldn’t have known it when she was 16. She said once that if it hadn’t been for Lasse, she would probably still have become a writer, but not a world-famous one. She was aware that this experience, however painful, was important for her stories.
In biopics, people often show rather explicitly what inspired a particular artist. Were you trying to avoid that?
In a way, I am still doing it. But it’s not a mathematical equation. It’s not like she saw a horse and then, bam! – there was a horse in her book. I am quoting her all the time and suggest how certain things found their way into her work, but I tried to be subtle about it. I didn’t want to take anybody’s life hostage. It was important to make this story my own. I tried to keep the whole process as open as possible, and I needed a good actress to do that. Astrid Lindgren was so characteristic. She was very smart and had a lot of empathy. We saw thousands of girls who wanted to be her, but I realised I wouldn’t be able to make this film with an amateur. We found Alba in theatre school. She knew it was about exploring and looking for the emotional truth – she was thinking like a real artist.
In Becoming Astrid, you also reunited with Trine Dyrholm. You have actually known each other for years, haven’t you?
We have been working together since film school. When I first met her, I was assisting Tomas Gislason – he edited The Element of Crime – and I had never worked with actors before. I was so scared of it; all I wanted to do was go and hide in the bathroom and cry. Then one day, I saw her in a TV show, and I thought: “Maybe I should do something with this girl.” Sometimes I think it was Trine who taught me how to direct actors. She taught me how to communicate.
Was Astrid’s work important for you as well as a child?
I am from Denmark, but my father was a young doctor, and sometimes he would work in Sweden, too. Until I turned 11, I used to spend every summer in Småland. There was no TV, no iPad, no hot water – we led a very simple life. I didn’t have anyone to play with, so my mother and I would read her books. Which led us to discuss some of the biggest issues in life: death, love, family and gender. If it hadn’t been for Pippi, I wouldn’t be a director. There weren’t many role models like that at the time – all we had was Cinderella. In Sweden, whenever people have to make important decisions, they ask: “What would Astrid say?” Her stories had a profound impact on me. I spent so much time with her, it’s a bit sad to leave her behind. But it’s time to move on.
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