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Erik Gustavson - director

Interview - Film in development

The Scandinavian director is talking about the making of the film Playing Ibsen, about the Italian sojourn of the great Norwegian playwright

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by Federico Greco and
Valentina Di Michele

The Scandinavian director is currently making Playing Ibsen, about the Italian sojourn of the great Norwegian playwright. “This is my most ambitious project to date.” The “Nordic Visions. The films of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden” review presented two films by Erik Gustavson, a Norwegian with a long-standing love affair with the South of Europe: Telegrafisten and Sofie Verden (Sofie’s World). Gustavson is about to embark on a new project, also his “most ambitious” one, about Norwegian playwrite, Henrik Ibsen’s Italian holiday. Entitled Playing Ibsen, the film will be produced by Cylinder Productions, a company Gustavson set up in 1980, together with a number of international partners including Italy’s Prometeo.

Where did you get the idea for a film about Ibsen’s Italian period from?
“Like so many Scandinavian artists of that time, Ibsen chose Rome for a voluntary exile. He was charmed by the language, the traditions and the culture of Southern Europe. In Norway, Ibsen was perpetually in conflict with his contemporaries and he ended up spending some 28 years away from home. During this time he wrote most of his most famous works, including “Peer Gynt”, written in Rome and on Ischia. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to call this film a sort of “Shakespeare in Love” where Ibsen falls in love with an Italian “signorina” even though he has a wife and family. This relationship will influence his creativity and writing.”

Was it difficult to finance this film?
“Extremely. The film was relegated to the project stage for a number of years and it was really tough work coming up with the money for a film of such dimensions. This is not so much a commercial film as an artistic one and is character, rather than plot-driven. The screenplay is extremely good and is by one of Norway’s pre-eminent contemporary writers, Lars Saabye Christensen, and got an excellent reception both from American distributors and the English and American cast. The film was thought up with an international distribution in mind: it will be made in English on location in Rome and most likely on Ischia and Ventotene too. However there are still several problems that need ironing out even though we have some great Italian partners.”

When will Playing Ibsen go into production?
“That depends on the financing. I think will are likely to start next spring, perhaps June: the film will be ready in time for the 2005 Berlin Film Festival and then distributed the world over by an American studio.
Who knows? It may even be ready before that date, but let’s wait and see how things go. We still have two years’ time. Playing Ibsen is completely different from my past films and I consider it to be the most important film of my career.”

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