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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Dag Johan Haugerud • Director of Sex

“I wanted to prompt a reflection on the societal exploitation of sexuality, even in what may seem like liberated times”


- BERLINALE 2024: The Norwegian director delves into his exploration of sexuality and gender, winner of the festival’s Europa Cinemas Label and the CICAE Art Cinema Award

Dag Johan Haugerud • Director of Sex

Sex [+see also:
film review
interview: Dag Johan Haugerud
film profile
, the newest film by Dag Johan Haugerud, is fresh off its success at the 74th Berlinale, where it premiered in the Panorama section. This first part of a trilogy won both the Europa Cinemas Label and the CICAE Art Cinema Award, as well as, rather curiously, the prize from the Ecumenical Jury. The Norwegian director delves into his exploration of sexuality and gender through the relationship between two straight male colleagues.

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Cineuropa: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this film?
Dag Johan Haugerud:
It always starts with the actors, for me. I enjoy crafting a screenplay specifically for actors I've collaborated with before, pushing them to embrace new challenges. While sexuality and gender are central themes, I wanted to enrich the narrative with elements of Oslo's urban environment, relationships, family dynamics, and religion. The overarching theme revolves around expanding our capacity for action in the realm of sexuality. Writing dialogues with specific actors in mind is a fun process; I can almost hear them speaking the lines. The collaboration with actors is crucial; I continuously refine the dialogue based on their feedback, making the process more enjoyable than the actual filming of the screenplay.

Are you satisfied with the resulting film?
Never. There are always numerous options and decisions to be made throughout the filmmaking process, from filming techniques to the depth of the narrative. I'm never entirely content because I know there could have been different choices, potentially leading to a different and maybe even better film. The question always lingers: How could it have been?

Why did you choose chimney sweeps as your central characters?
I wanted to explore a work culture and occupation I wasn't familiar with. Having previously made films about nurses, doctors, and teachers, I was intrigued by the idea of chimney sweeps. It provided an opportunity to delve into a different world and also allowed us to film on rooftops.

Your characters don't have names but are identified by their occupation. Can you elaborate on the different journeys they undergo in terms of sexuality and gender identity?
My characters, simply named chimney sweep one and two, undergo distinct experiences. The first chimney sweep has an unexpected opportunity to have sex with another man, and he says yes. And he's a straight man, a very ordinary man. He approaches it with childlike curiosity, finding it surprising and enjoyable. However, when he honestly shares his experience with his wife and colleague, he realises that there are societal norms against this and faces rejection and judgement. The second chimney sweep's journey is more introspective, driven by a dream where he meets David Bowie, who looks at him as if he was a woman. This prompts him to question the essence of masculinity and what it means to be a man, a complex and unanswerable question. I can see images of masculinity all over, but I don't really relate to them all the time. I don't see a very masculine man and think, 'Oh, that's like me.' Because it's a stereotype. I don't recognise that stereotype in myself.

The film captures the normality of life in a mesmerising way. How do you approach mise-en-scene to achieve this?
I aim for the film to feel as realistic as possible, allowing the audience to relate to it within a plausible framework. The use of distance, with fewer close-ups, encourages viewers to think while watching. The formalistic approach, with a strict form, aims to observe everyday life and real people, inviting the audience to invest their thoughts in the movie. These people might talk a bit differently from you, but they have thoughts that you can recognise, thoughts you might have had yourself.

The film draws parallels between urban architecture and the constraints in our sexual ideas and freedom. What insights did you gain while making this movie?
The film sparks a thought process, encouraging audiences to contemplate various aspects of sexuality. It doesn't provide answers but rather presents individual perspectives on a highly personal and diverse topic. Sexuality is subjective, with different desires and pressures. I wanted to prompt a reflection on the societal exploitation of sexuality, even in what may seem like liberated times.

What's next for you?
Sex is the first part of a trilogy. The next two films, already filmed and in various stages of post-production, explore different facets of sexuality and gender with distinct characters and narratives. They are not connected but offer diverse perspectives within the overarching theme. The second film is set to be released in August, followed by the third in November.

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