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VENICE 2018 International Film Critics’ Week

Anna Eriksson • Director

“I dreamt about Marilyn Monroe”


- VENICE 2018: We met up with successful Finnish musician Anna Eriksson to discuss her directorial feature debut, M, which premiered in Venice’s International Film Critics’ Week

Anna Eriksson • Director
(© Settimana Internazionale della Critica di Venezia)

Already a household name in her native Finland thanks to her platinum-selling records, Anna Eriksson expands her multi-hyphenate career with M [+see also:
film review
interview: Anna Eriksson
film profile
– an unflinching, experimental take on Marilyn Monroe, which she produced, wrote, directed, edited and scored, all while donning a platinum wig to play the lead role herself. The film premiered in Venice’s International Film Critics’ Week.

Cineuropa: When it comes to Monroe, fellow artists often find her even more fascinating than normal viewers. Why do you think that is?
Anna Eriksson
: At first, I wasn’t that interested in her to be honest. And then I read Sarah Churchwell’s The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. It was like a biography of all the biographies written about her throughout the years. I started reading more books, watched documentaries and all her films. I just thought: “I have to do something.” I am a musician, but that didn’t seem right. I considered video art, but when we started filming, the project just exploded.

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I think it has something to do with her fragility. But then again, there is a lot of strength beneath all that. When I think of her, I always think about violence. When it comes to Monroe, sexuality and death always go together and somehow I connect to that.

Even her look invited comparisons to death. She was famous for her odd, white make-up.
Her on-screen persona is not that interesting to me, but yes – there is something strange about her. And yet she is usually portrayed in such a boring way. She was in a lot of physical pain, had to deal with mental problems. How many times did she try to commit suicide? When you look at her, you always want to save her. When I was making this film, I started to have dreams about her. Many ended up in the film. Once I dreamt she was angry and when she opened her mouth, a moth flew out. Before she became a star, she once said to a photographer that when she dies, she wants to turn into a butterfly. 

Do you think literature treated her better, for example Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates?
This might be the take which is the closest to the Marilyn I imagine. I also like the new, more feminist approach to her story, because the older ones just painted her as this victim. They weren’t open to certain aspects of her personality that I find interesting. She was actually one of the first Hollywood actresses to have her own production company. It’s a shame she never got to be the actress she wanted to be. She was fed up with comedy, even though she was great at it – she was the female Charlie Chaplin. 

You had a tremendous amount of control over the film. You directed it, edited it, you were even responsible for the sound design. Why was that important?
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into [laughter]. I am not trying to break into the film business and I didn’t think of M as a film – I was thinking about it as a piece of art, which actually gave me a lot of freedom. I didn’t have a clear schedule and I don’t think I have ever felt that inspired – not once in my career.

I have fought really hard for my freedom in music. It didn’t happen overnight – it has taken years. Now, with the last two or three albums, I produced them and I wrote all the songs. But it hasn’t been always like that. My wish is to work like this in the future, because I think the power of this film lies in the fact that it was done independently. It has a certain freshness because of it.

Still, your background as a musician certainly helped – you even try to mimic Monroe’s famous, almost childish way of talking in the film.
It was so difficult to portray her, because she has been portrayed in every possible way. You certainly can’t look like her – you can try, but it doesn’t really work. So at first I thought I won’t show my face at all and will just be filmed from the back. But you need to respect this illusion of her that’s in everybody’s head. And the voice and her way of talking is one way to do it. I needed something that would just be pure Marilyn. Something familiar. 

Did you always intend to come off so vulnerable? You expose yourself so much and put the emphasis on the body, but it’s often battered and bruised. It’s difficult not to look away.
That’s how I wanted you to feel. You want to look away, but you can’t. That’s what art should be all about – you can actually put people in the position where they can’t look away. I was exposed, but I wanted to be. That’s how she felt as well. If I had my clothes on, it wouldn’t be the same. It was difficult. I have never done that before, I have never shown myself that way. But it was crucial for the film. Of course, when I stood naked in front of the camera, I felt like covering myself up. And yet I knew there were scenes, like the one in the bedroom, that wouldn’t have worked otherwise. Underneath all her make-up and beauty and fame, I felt this violence and pain. I wanted to show that side of her. Afterwards, when the #MeToo movement happened, I realised the timing was surprisingly perfect.

How did you want to show her interacting with other people? It always feels like a dream of sorts, or a drug-induced haze.
I think of her as being in some kind of a limbo. She is already dead, and things just happen. Her whole life flashes before our eyes, in no particular order. You could say all this is happening inside her head. For a long time I was confused by this film. It was like trying to figure out a puzzle. And then, about two years ago, I finally realised it should be just like that. I wanted her to be unreachable and untouchable. She isn’t here – she is in a dream.

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