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IFFR 2024 Big Screen Competition

Ulaa Salim • Director of Eternal

"We’re all seeking something bigger than our own lives or bigger than ourselves"


- Revealed with Sons of Denmark, the Danish filmmaker returns with a hybrid work completely out of the ordinary, a film of love, action, and science-fiction

Ulaa Salim  • Director of Eternal
(© Hashim Musa)

Unveiled in the Big Screen Competition of the 53rd IFFR, Eternal [+see also:
film review
interview: Ulaa Salim
film profile
is the second feature film from Danish director Ulaa Salim, who was discovered in the Tiger competition of the Dutch festival in 2019 with Sons of Denmark [+see also:
film review
interview: Elliott Crosset Hove
interview: Ulaa Salim
film profile

Cineuropa: Eternal is inspired by a short film of the same name that you directed in 2012. What pushed you to re-explore this story?
Ulaa Salim: There was an element of the short film that I had really fallen in love with. When I wrote that short film, I was in my early twenties and my way of thinking and my emotions were very characteristic of that age. When the ideas for the new film appeared, the creation of a family, the way life changes, characters at two different stages of their existence, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the way I was thinking in my early twenties. It’s a bit like an expansion of time, like several versions of myself confronted with love. There was therefore something quite sincere about putting a bit of young and naive love into the film. Because even when we get older, when we become an adult, a father, we don’t forget this pure sensation of love. It is this emotion of youth that I wanted to use from the short film. Apart from that, the feature film is completely different, it’s about the topic of family and the very great fear of not being a good father or mother to your children.

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From this very personal basis, how did you arrive at this very ambitious and spectacular science-fiction story, with a looming geo-ecological catastrophe? 
We all know that we will die someday. We all try to live our lives and to have an existence as long as possible, but no matter what we do, it will end. It’s the same thing for our planet: this world will end, perhaps not right away, nor in a hundred years, but it will end. This is why I moved the story in that direction, rather than from an activist perspective. I like films whose depth moves you, such as Kramer vs Kramer which I saw before and after my divorce, but I also like to put myself in the viewer’s shoes and to try to avoid the clichés of auteur cinema. It’s a mix: genre cinema, but of a kind that has a meaning for me and for the world, and an attempt to try something new. 

Underwater missions, the fault in the ocean floor: on paper, it seems like all of this would be challenging to shoot.
Because I have my own production company, my associate and I never wonder about how we will make a film, but about what film we really want to make. I remained dedicated to this point of view as long as I could during writing. At a certain point, questions of financing are raised, but I wrote in a totally free way. We didn’t know anything, we didn’t even know how we would shoot the underwater scenes, nor what special effects would be possible. We visited around twenty swimming pools, met with special effects teams and a submarine builder. Our only rule was to make the film as if it was our first and our last. 

How did you work on the balance between love story and action film?
I didn’t want the film to lean towards the blockbuster, so I decided to take my time with the young couple because I knew that if we succeeded in really immersing ourselves in their story, the film would reach another level when they’d meet again. It was important not to move too fast towards action in the beginning. Then, the three underwater missions were conceived as three short films that would be films in themselves, with some repeated elements and something new each time, so that they would offer a different experience every time. 

You inserted an undefined mystical element into the story. How far did you want to go with it?
I didn’t want the character to go to the underwater fault, have something magical happen to them, and just leave it there. I wanted the film to be focused on his personal quest, his personal experience. Each viewer can also project their own existential questions onto him. For me, what is mystical here is love, happiness, the fears we have when we examine our own lives. When we talk about them, these elements can quickly become banal, but we can all tell that we’re all seeking something bigger than our own lives or bigger than ourselves. Many people who do not consider themselves to be religious touch on these kinds of questions at one moment or another in their lives, without knowing why, but it’s because they feel the need to think, to believe, to hope that there is something more. Inserting a few elements of this kind into the story gave it another emotional dimension. 

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(Translated from French)

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