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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2023 Competition

Isabella Eklöf • Director of Kalak

“Sometimes you have to admit defeat to start over and rise again”


- The Swedish filmmaker details the inspirations for her new feature, based on Kim Leine's autobiographical novel, as well as the research that went into it

Isabella Eklöf  • Director of Kalak

Swedish filmmaker Isabella Eklöf talks about the inspirations for her new feature, Kalak [+see also:
film review
interview: Isabella Eklöf
film profile
, screening in competition at San Sebastián, as well as the research that went into it.

Cineuropa: Kalak is based on Kim Leine's autobiographical novel of the same name. How did you come to be interested in his story, and why did you wish to adapt it?
Isabella Eklöf:
I found the book in my bookshelf one day when I was bored – I must have bought it at some point, and when I read the back of the book, I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t already devoured it on the spot. I instantly wrote to the author to ask if the book was optioned – and only then did I sit down to actually read it. Luckily, the book was just as compelling and as pivotal as my intuition told me it would be. It speaks to me on so many layers – I identify with the trauma of an overbearing and all-consuming father, I share Kim’s curiosity and fascination with collective societies in general, and Greenland in particular, and I deeply relate to his and the main character’s longing to belong and be immersed in a bigger family – a bigger togetherness and purpose.

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The film is about human pain and loneliness. For you, is it a chronicle of defeat or a quest for liberation?
It's both. Sometimes you have to admit defeat to start over and rise again. If you try something again and again, and keep butting your head against the wall, it’s probably a good idea to try a new direction in life – but sometimes it takes a lot of pain and desperation to break the incredibly strong ties of emotional habits.

The scene with the masked dance during the prologue of the film is particularly striking. What does it mean to you?
I have a small obsession with the idea of having a pantomime at the start of a play, as expressed in Shakespeare's Hamlet – a little introductory piece with dance and music, expressing the themes of the film in concrete as well as symbolic terms. It’s sort of an induction to the underlying emotions that aren't necessarily expressed within the confines of cinematic realism.

The protagonist has relationships with four different women: his wife and the three Greenlandic ladies. Could you comment on how you see these different relationships?
In essence, he is looking for the same thing in all of them – someone who will see him for what he is and still accept him. His wife Lærke is safe because their relationship is so very pragmatic and friendship-like. Karina represents the lack of boundaries and the violence of the feelings that Jan carries within himself. Ella is the fellow nurse, who’s seen it all, and Nikoline is so traumatised and weak that Jan’s own trauma pales in comparison.

The dialogue is very important in the film; how did you work on the text with the actors, and how much did you leave to improvisation?
With the Greenlandic actors, there was a lot of room for improvisation and additions, since the language is not my own and the input of the cultural context from them was very important. With the character of Jan, however, the dialogue as written by Kim Leine is a reflection of his own speech, and so we chose to stick to the musicality of the original dialogue as much as possible.

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