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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Jeanette Nordahl • Director of Wildland

“I was trying to create tension in a way that’s not obvious”


- BERLINALE 2020: We talked to Jeanette Nordahl, the debuting director behind the Panorama title Wildland

Jeanette Nordahl  • Director of Wildland
(© Morten Germund)

In Wildland [+see also:
film review
interview: Jeanette Nordahl
film profile
, to be shown in the Panorama section of the 70th Berlin Film Festival, Jeanette Nordahl proves that crime dramas are not just about running away from danger. As her teenage protagonist finds out when placed in the care of her aunt, sometimes the most fearsome people are already inside your house.

Cineuropa: There are different ways of showing a life of crime, but you opted for a very tiny unit: a mother [played by Sidse Babett Knudsen] and her three sons.
Jeanette Nordahl:
Family is what interests me the most. We wanted to explore the power of such a community, and it made sense to talk about it while using the mafia genre – and crime, to heighten the stakes. In Wildland, there is a certain hierarchy, with Sidse’s matriarch, Bodil, being the most powerful. Her sons act accordingly around their mother: the eldest does what she says, the middle one is acting up more, and the youngest is basically a grown-up baby, without a voice of his own. Despite their differences, what they have in common is their loyalty to the family. And, as we discuss, that’s precisely where the real danger lies.

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It brings to mind films where a similarly strong mother figure was almost a caricature, like Kristin Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives [+see also:
film review
making of
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile
, for example. How did you see her?
Bodil is such an interesting character to explore – a typical anti-hero, in the sense that she doesn’t see her own flaws. Loyalty and family love are what she cares about the most; that’s the root of everything she does, and these positive qualities make her more complex. She is not a villain; she is simply trying to protect her family, with all the means that she has. Bodil is a bit “heightened” as a character. The way she shows her love is very physical, and if someone doesn’t obey, the consequences are very physical, too. With my actors, we agreed to go a bit further than your usual instinct, assuming that if it didn’t work out, we could always tone it down later.

This intense physicality in their interactions doesn’t sit well with your main character, Ida. She doesn’t really express much, if anything at all.
Ida is a very passive character, or maybe “observant” would be a better word. She is not very expressive in the way she deals with emotions, and we use her to create tension. It’s funny because when you start film school, the number-one rule is: “Don’t have a passive main character!” We knew it could be quite difficult, but it was also something we felt we could handle. As soon as I found Sandra [Guldberg Kampp, in her first starring role], it became clear that we could finally give Ida what she needed, as a character. Sandra has a certain presence. You want to understand what she’s thinking.

Every woman you show experiences this family in a different way. Was this something you wanted to focus on, instead of closing doors on them like with Diane Keaton in The Godfather?
We were interested in understanding what it is the women pass on while holding the family together. In a way, it emphasises what we wanted to say with this story, I think. We show the power of the community, the difficulty of not being able to break free from the path that has already been laid out in front of you. It just made more sense to have women looking at it, since they perpetuate the family in a very physical way. All young people in the film are trying to escape in one way or another. But in order to do that, what are you willing to sacrifice?

You talk about big subjects here but on a small scale, with everyone stuck in one house. How did you want to use this space?
I was trying to create tension in a way that’s not obvious. There aren’t any outside enemies, and they aren’t fighting against the police or engaging in shootouts. So it was all about taking this peril and putting it inside the house, where a simple caress can seem just as dangerous and a kiss just as uncomfortable. The real danger lies within the characters. Usually, when you reach the third act, everything is supposed to speed up. You go faster and faster, until you hit some kind of climax. We wanted to go the opposite way. When it becomes more dangerous, we slow down the pace even more and let the characters’ true selves unfold.

Given that this is your first feature, was it a difficult one to explain?
It took a long time for us to get the funding we needed, but Ingeborg Topsøe wrote a screenplay that transcended a lot of this tension we are talking about now. It was always a question of how to create it to make it feel like a genre movie, albeit without all the explosives. We had to find it in the mundane, in the ordinary things like playing video games or eating breakfast, and spice it up with something unpredictable. You take these everyday situations and then give them a bit of a twist.

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