Itonje Søimer Guttormsen • Director of Gritt
“I just couldn't grasp the concept that we would come from some man's rib”
by Marta Bałaga
- We chatted to the Norwegian director about her feature debut, which revisits a struggling actress she introduced in her short Retract
Heading to the Göteborg Film Festival and IFFR (Tiger Competition) following a world premiere at the recent Tromsø International Film Festival, Itonje Søimer Guttormsen returns to Gritt [+see also:
interview: Itonje Søimer Guttormsen
film profile]: a struggling actress she introduced in her 2017 short Retract. Now she is ready to take on the art world, whether it wants her or not.
Cineuropa: While watching the film, one thinks about how hard it is to talk about failure. But then you turn this idea of what we consider as failure on its head!
Itonje Søimer Guttormsen: I wanted to question what we see as success and what we see as worthy, “productive” activities. When I was pitching, people would say: “Oh, she is this unsuccessful artist.” But her longing is to contribute to a greater cause! Gritt was born into a Christian community only to be torn out of it, but she still has sincerity and high ideals, which is not that common – at least not in Norway right now. For her, it's crucial to manifest that, and when she doesn't find her outlet, also in the art field where we have all these “norms”, she has to leave. She finds something else, in nature, and is confronted with other powers. I am hoping that this film will empower others to really look inside, instead of focusing on external recognition.
She is very lonely, though. Whenever you show her interacting with others, they seem tired of her. Is it because she is always herself?
She doesn't have this need to please. She just doesn't have that gene, unlike so many women, so of course she alienates others. We really created this character together with my actress [Birgitte Larsen], and we found some humour in it – there is something funny about a person who doesn't try to charm her way in. Sure, that would make her life easier, but she doesn't go for easy. I wanted to see what happens when we are so irritated by such people. Maybe it's because we are not as passionate, and we know it?
Once she decides to collaborate with the refugees, broken and basically abandoned, she seems to understand them better. Probably because she doesn't come from a place of privilege.
She does not feel at home here in Norway, so that makes it easier, but even though she is out on the street, she doesn't have to fight for her life. Like many things in the film, that also happened to me: I also worked on a project with these guys, and then I just had to write them into the film. Cultural life, at least in Norway, is full of privileged people, but there are some outcasts like Gritt. If you are that vulnerable, it's easier to establish a real connection. That's one advantage she has: she is curious about people, empathetic.
You decided to touch upon this idea of modern witchcraft, incorporating some discussions about Lilith [a demonic figure of Jewish folklore, also known as Adam's wife before Eve] into the movie.
I heard of her when I was 27, and it shook my world – before, I used to be quite aggressive towards Christianity or any patriarchal religion. I just couldn't grasp that concept that we would come from some man's rib. It was a revelation – not because I took it literally, but because that myth captured what I felt was missing from the identity of an active, creative, daring woman. She leaves Eden, sacrificing her safety, so I wanted to give her to Gritt as some sort of salvation. When you are not recognised as a person, when you are not seen, the witch archetype can represent someone who finds truth within themselves. I also run a performance group that investigates Lilith. It's playful to me, but also deadly serious.
Different people take this film in very different ways: some are disturbed about Gritt's well-being, while others are inspired. It tells us something about where we stand. In our times, which are very apocalyptic, having some kind of flexibility and being self-sufficient can be very useful.
There is a fighter in her – she goes to the gym, saying she wants to gain strength, as if preparing for this journey already. I heard you might be continuing it?
This is the second film about her, in a way. I want to follow her until she's old, so maybe the next one will be more of a hybrid? My initial plan was to go to the States for three months and do some research, but obviously that can't happen right now. It could even be a music video, who knows? But I do want to see where she goes next.
Was it a conscious decision to skip any romantic entanglements?
She says at one point: “I’ve given that up for now.” This is something I might investigate later on. I don't think a normal family is either wanted or possible, but she has that longing for a community. I never “did” romance in any of my previous projects, so we will see! But I am certainly going to get her a horse – that's all I know.
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