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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Tea Lindeburg • Director of As In Heaven

"There are still 300,000 women a year who die in childbirth"


- The Danish director's feature debut centres on a teenage girl in the late 1800s who sees her dream of getting an education threatened when her mother goes into a complicated labour

Tea Lindeburg  • Director of As In Heaven
(© SSIFF/Álex Abril)

Danish Director Tea Lindeburg’s debut film, As In Heaven [+see also:
film review
interview: Tea Lindeburg
film profile
, is playing in competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival, where we met the director to discuss her sensational first work, childbirth, and the relationships between mothers and daughters. 

As In Heaven is an adaptation of Marie Bregendahl’s 1912 novel, which was translated as “A Night of Death” in 1931. It’s the story of a 14-year-old living on a farm at the end of the 1800s. She is destined to be the first girl in the family to be educated, but her mother then goes into a complicated labour, which threatens to derail all her hopes and dreams for the future.

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Cineuropa: Was it difficult to shoot the film during COVID?
Tea Lindeburg: The big thing was more the time of the day. Time is such a significant factor in the film. We were very dependent on shooting precisely at the right time of day so that in the movie, we could see how the sky develops during the day. We couldn't have rain, or the weather and light changing too much.

Isn't that the magic of cinema?
Yes. Exactly. But then you also have children in the film, and they are not allowed to shoot all the time. 

Where were you when you read the book for the first time?
I was in a house in Sweden. I had just given birth to my son. It's a book that has always been on my mother's bookshelf. It's called “Night of Death” in Danish, and I've always been drawn to that title. For some reason, we have this house in Sweden, my husband is a musician, his band has this really Pippy Longstocking kind of house, we were there with some friends for a couple of weeks before my son was born, and we have a lot of my mother's old books there. I took it from the shelf and started reading it. I was like, “this is crazy,” and I was immediately drawn into that world. 

The emphasis on childbirth and the mother-daughter relationship is so fascinatingly brought to the screen. Was that central to your understanding of the themes of the book? 
Of course, the whole thing about the mother and going through labour and how dangerous it was not so long ago. This is a loosely autobiographical book, but the author did lose her mother in a similar way. I just felt so lucky to be living in the time we are now, and in our part of the world. When we give birth, death is not a thought that crosses our minds: We don't think “I might die.” It's more like “how many drugs should I have?” It's become more like a menu. But then you look into it, and you realise it actually isn’t like that for many today. There are still 300,000 women a year who die in childbirth. These were not my immediate thoughts when reading the book. I was drawn to having the labour as a frame and as the plot, in a way. It's a small plot, but most of the plot is inside the character's head. I was also drawn to that girl and how she goes through that day with hopes and dreams and fears, self-doubt, guilt, and relationships. 

The film shows mothers passing on their strengths to their daughters and being pivotal in the kids' direction. What is your fascination with mothers?
I always have mothers in my work. This is the first time the mother is a benevolent, all-embracing mother. I usually have evil mothers. I think my mum is happy that I finally have work with a good mother.

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