Natasha Arthy • Director
Cultures and kicks clash in Arthy’s new kung fu film
by Annika Pham
In competition at the 2003 Karlovy Vary Film Festival with her Dogma film Old, New, Borrowed and Blue, Natasha Arthy is back this year with her Danish kung fu Fighter [+see also:
interview: Cyron Melville
film profile] as part of the festival’s Variety Critics Choice: Europe Now! Her third feature film was previously shown at in this year’s Berlinale Generation14+ section and has been picked up for distribution in the US (IFC), the UK (Momentum) and France (Europa Corp), among others.
Cineuropa: Would you describe Fighter as a kung fu movie with a message or a coming-of-age movie that uses martial arts as an allegoric tool?
Natasha Arthy: It is a coming-of-age film with a message that uses physical kung fu instead of words. Fighter is a youth film that deals with finding one’s self without losing track of people you love. I think that most young people know what it means, to want something else than what their parents want. The conflict is universal – the message applies to all youngsters, whatever their gender, age or background. Today, everything happens really fast. It’s about becoming an adult as quickly as possible. Finding out what you want and taking a lot of serious decisions. Of course, this is even more acute when you grow up with two cultures and are a woman.
The kung fu element is only another means to express this. I found it more fun to tell this physically than to explain everything with dialogue. The film then gets a dynamic and a pulse that fits the story of a young girl who has to fight her inner battle to find herself and her way in life. While doing the research on the film I found out that many girls from the Middle East do combat sports. I found this an interesting contrast to our prejudices about the repressed woman – plus it’s a nice symbol for her struggle.
How did you convince the Chinese Kung Fu master Xian Gao (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to work on your film?
We called him and he came to Denmark. He was one of the choreographers I got along with best. He is super dedicated. His taste and my own are very similar. At the beginning, it was a bit strange to have to communicate through an interpreter but when his daughter arrived it became really easy. Gao speaks Chinese and very little English. Angela speaks both languages fluently and also practices combat sports. The fact that everything went really smoothly is very much because of her.
Your film deals with second-generation Turkish immigrants in Denmark and the cultural clashes with their parents. How much advice did you get on that subject to find the right tone?
I researched for a year. But I also remembered the problem from my own childhood. It was of course another way to stress that the main character in the film is caught between two different cultures. Also, with the young actors, I tried to show how things really are, and we tried to do it with lots of love, loyalty and respect. We discussed everything from their deepest emotions to how the teenagers should express it. I wasn’t interested in them playing something that wasn’t credible for them. They had to be able to vouch for everything, something very important when you work with non-professional actors, I think.
We discussed the cultural differences. For instance, are most youngsters in Denmark asked to follow their own desires, regardless of what their mothers and fathers want? If you grow up with a different background – be it Turkish or Middle Eastern – then family and friends really matter when youngsters make a decision. Following your heart or your desire can be much more complicated and have much bigger consequences for the individual and for the rest of the family compared to an average Danish family.
However, I think that the basic feeling is the same. That’s important to underline, when too much debate these days is about “us” and “them”. We live in a multicultural society. This is a gift, not a burden. We should be interested in each other – this is the way forward.
You’ve built your fame on films for children and youths. Is that your favourite genre?
Not necessarily. I have made films for children, adults and now this youth film. Right now, I’m more interested in what youngsters are passionate about. This is something you tend to forget too quickly the older you get.
What drives you as a filmmaker?
A good story with dynamic images, and the fact that I can’t rest until it is told.
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