My love for Christoffer Boe's Reconstruction has been well documented on this site so when I recently came across word that his sophomore feature was nearing completion I was ecstatic. When I heard that he had a few other projects on the go simultaneously I was even moreso. And then when I came across the contact information for his production company I, of course, immediately fired off a request for an interview thinking that there was no chance it would happen. What director takes time from his loaded schedule while in production on a film to talk to someone half way around the world about films that will likely never screen in the interviewers country?
Well, Christoffer Boe does. Earlier today I found myself on the phone with the award winning director as he drove through the Danish countryside, returning to Copenhagen presumably from a day on location. Read on for his thoughts on Danish film, genre, the fusion of Tarkovsky and Lerner and Lowe musicals, and details on each of his coming projects.
TB: Now most people here aren’t going to know very much about you so I wanted to start with a little bit of background. How you first got involved in film, who the key influences and film makers were for you.
CB: Okay. You just want me to start rolling?
TB: Sure, if you can. I know obviously Jean Luc Godard is a major figure for you. [Boe’s production company is named Alphaville after a Godard film]
CB: Yeah. That came a little later, though, actually. He wasn’t the initial guy I really loved. Like most people I began by really loving Hollywood movies but it was actually quite late that I found out that I wanted to make movies. I was finishing high school and I went to Indiana, Bloomington, in the United States to go to university. And it was actually at the university that I really found out that I wanted to make movies. So I was eighteen or nineteen, around that age. It was that university where I took a lot of courses on French cinema, classic Hollywood thrillers and so forth and I not only fell in love with the cinema but realized that I wanted to do this myself.
It’s a very big cliché but the biggest influence at an early age was Orson Welles and the stuff that he made. I mean, it’s such a story in itself. It’s a great thing when you’re young that this young director goes out and makes the greatest movie of all time at the age of twenty four. Until I reached the age of twenty four that was sort of the goal, taking that fight out against Orson Welles. But then you realize at some point that that’s not a fight that you’re going to win. And after that you just have to realize that you have to do it your own way and try to fight new battles because the battle against Orson Welles is a battle you’re always going to lose.
I think that Citizen Kane was the most important film to me. I saw it at an early age – maybe ten or eleven – and I really just loved that movie and saw it a lot of times. Seven Samurai by Kurosawa. Those were the movies that I grew up with and really fell in love with. And then when I went to America and started watching film on a much more serious basis I realized how great the French were.
My first meeting with Leos Carax and Boy Meets Girl was a serious shock to my system. It was a sort of out of body experience watching this guy, who was also a very young man, doing this great poetic cinema that seemed like it was coming out of a great tradition of cinema but still was very fresh and new and something that I had never seen before. Leos Carax was the guy, my flame in the night, and he’s still a man that I enjoy and love very much.
TB: Looking at Danish film from the North American perspective it looks as though Danish film culture is really very vibrant. I’m in Canada and population-wise our two countries are about the same but I can name an awful lot more strong Danish film makers than I can Canadian ones. Is it as strong as it seems? Is there something about Denmark that fosters film culture?
CB: I don’t know … I think it’s difficult when you’re inside to see the industry. I think a lot of Danish cinema sucks. But I guess that’s how it should be. I feel very strongly and I always felt like an outsider and I try to work against whatever is around me. So I’m not a great appreciator, a great connoisseur, of Danish cinema. But, that being said there are a lot of things going on in Danish cinema and I don’t have any great explanation for it. I think the biggest reason is two or three or four very important people. Some directors – like Lars Von Trier – and some teachers and other people, organizers, who all, in their different way, create structures and environments that have really helped a lot of people make movies.
TB: I was going to ask you about Von Trier. He really loves to bait the North American press and cast himself a certain way. Is he actually as important as he likes to make himself out to be?
CB: I think his political opinions are very unimportant, but as a film maker he is very important. I think that he questions film technique and he does it interestingly and funnily and he has made some great stuff. I don’t think you can relate to the film medium in our age without confronting and questioning and watching Lars Von Trier. I think there are ten or twenty guys like him, who you just have to look at. He is one of those. That being said I find his position as a very confrontational and controversial man kind of funny. To me he’s not controversial figure, he’s just a very interesting film maker.
TB: One of the things that struck me about Reconstruction was how different it was from most of what makes it out of Scandinavia, especially recently. Most of what comes here, even if not actual Dogme films, are very minimal and it seems that Reconstruction, in many ways, went as far away from that as you possibly could. You said that you like to react against whatever’s around you, was that the case here?
CB: No, that’s not a reaction. I think Dogme is a wonderful thing in the sense that it has put Denmark on the map for film making and has done a lot for the industry but, as such, the film making that it does to me is really not anything revolutionary. I think Godard went out with five people and made Dogme movies in the sixties and I think they are more vibrant, they are more intellectual, they are more interesting, they are more keen on film and so forth. So I wouldn’t give Dogme the benefit of reacting against it. I wouldn’t say Reconstruction is a reaction against Dogme.
TB: Who was your cinematographer on Reconstruction? He shoots really, really beautiful film.
CB: He’s called Manuel Claro. He’s a guy that I met at film school and we’ve been working together ever since. Actually him, the sound designer and producer are all people that I met at film school and worked with at film school and continue working with now, actually. We just finished a new movie and are planning the next movie to work on together. We have a tight unit that works together.
TB: Before we get into those next movies I wanted to ask you a bit about Visions of Europe. That’s something that I haven’t been able to find very much on and it sounds like an interesting project.
CB: It is interesting, but I have to admit that I haven’t seen the whole movie myself. It’s twenty five movies, all short movies. My movie is just five minutes long and it’s very strange, but I like it.
I don’t know if you know anything about the project, but it’s twenty five directors from different European countries, there are some really great directors involved, and we all had the same budget but we had a clean slate. We could do anything we wanted to do as long as, in some way, it was about Europe. My movie is basically about the concept of the continent ‘Europe’ and very specifically about a guy who is unable to pronounce the word ‘Europe’ and he’s about to speak at a very big conference. He’s some kind of politician. It’s very difficult, even though it’s only five minutes it’s a very strange little piece so I can’t really give a review of it. It was very fun to make.
I haven’t seen the whole thing together so I don’t know how it looks to watch the twenty five movies back to back. I would imagine that it’s a little boring. Interesting, but a little boring.
TB: Do you know if it’s going to get a DVD release?
CB: I would imagine so. I think it’s been around some festivals and I imagine it will at some point come out on DVD. I haven’t heard for sure, but I would assume so.
TB: Okay. Allegro. I know you’re almost done with that one now.
CB: Yes. It’s almost ready to be released. Some things that I found out when I was in America were the wonderful genres of movie making. I feel that even though I try to make movies that are not, at least not in every way, conventional they are still very conventional in that they take great joy in working with conventions of cinema. I love genres and my project at the moment is working my way through my favorite genres. Reconstruction was a love story, not only because of the actual story I wanted it to tell but also because it was about my love of cinema. And this next movie I wanted to make, Allegro, with this I wanted to work with science fiction since this is a genre that we never really see expressed in Denmark and it’s a genre that I enjoyed, as a young kid, watching and thinking about. I think that science fiction, in a way, is the genre that … it’s the play-child of fiction. It’s the playground where you ask ‘what if?’ And I love ‘what if’ questions. So I wanted to make a movie without high-tech but with a lot of ‘what if’s. The great ‘what if’ is basically that Copenhagen seems to be able to remember things that you, or at least this guy in this movie, forget. It also will be difficult for me to explain, even though this is a longer movie but basically it’s a love story, science fiction, and it’s a sort of triangle between a woman and a man and Copenhagen. In that sense it reminds me of Reconstruction but I truly hope that it’s something completely different.
TB: In some ways when I read a summary of the plot it reminded me of Tarkovsky’s Stalker and a Korean film called Nabi that came out a few years ago.
CB: Yes. In many ways I wanted it to be a meeting of Stalker and Gigi. I’m also a great fan of musicals. I thought that Vincente Minnelli and Tarkovsky should meet and they should meet in Copenhagen. I don’t know if people will see that when they watch the movie but that was the beginning point when I made the movie and I had that as a reference when I told people about the story. It has the flavor and the slightness of Gigi but that existential science fiction heaviness of Stalker.
TB: It wouldn’t be Denmark without a bit of existentialism.
TB: Now, Reconstruction and Allegro both are dealing really heavily with issues of memory and perception and reality. Is that an idea that you stick with a fair bit?
CB: Yes. I’m very fascinated with this conception that we have of identity and how we perceive ourselves. In many ways we have this very fixed, static perception of ourselves but in many ways it’s just a complete construction. I think that movies are a great medium to play with how slim the lines are, in our own lives, between fiction and reality. I think in many ways we construct our own reality, even though we don’t perceive it that way, and my movies are just playing with that idea. I don’t know … for me I’m stuck with that idea. I still have a couple of movies that I have to do about that thing and then, hopefully, at some point I’ll grow up and move on.
TB: You were talking about how you’re interested in genre, which I’ve seen you say before in an interview over at the Danish Film Institutes, and I was struck by that because a lot of “serious” artists, which you’re being treated as, try to stay as far away from genre as they possibly can. I really love genre film but it’s very unusual for a certain segment to embrace it.
CB: I think that the traditional art cinema as we know it from the sixties and seventies, it doesn’t have any relevance. We really have to go back and we have to reinvent that genre of art cinema and European cinema. I think that we have to embrace the fact that cinema is a wonderful medium and it’s a thrilling place to get to know life. Like I said in that other interview it’s a sort of a backstage pass into life where we can experience things before we experience them in real life. We can have an understanding of death and love and loss because we experience them in cinema and that great joy of cinema is something we have to embrace even though we want to treat it as a serious medium that can discuss serious themes. I think cinema essentially has to be entertaining and that cinema essentially is genre because film is a mass medium and the way that people perceive and interpret cinema is through the context of knowledge of previously defined genres. So I think that we have to have an understanding of these genres and work with them and against them. Obviously we don’t have to just repeat them. I think that one of the big mistakes at the moment is that genres have become very stale; we’re just reproducing old corpses. We’ve seen all the cinema, all the genre elements, and now they’re just being reproduced. But I think that there’s a way out of this and it’s not necessarily to do something completely different. It’s not to ignore the genres but to embrace them and try to reinvent them. That’s a long monolog but I’ll stick to that.
TB: Now, after Allegro you’ve got three other films on the go? Prediction, Off Screen and Written?
TB: Are those falling into different genres as well?
CB: Prediction is sort of a slow motion thriller. Off Screen is … actually, I don’t know what the hell that is. So I’ll keep that out of the genre thing. And Allegro is science fiction and Reconstruction is a love movie. At the moment I think that the next thing should be thrillers. I think thrillers are a great genre and I really want to try and work with that.
TB: How far along are you into these other ones?
CB: Prediction is finished, actually. There are some things that need to be finalized but Prediction is finished. Allegro is finished and will be out in September. I don’t know when Prediction will be out. And I’m shooting Off Screen. I’m in the middle of shooting that.
TB: And I know you’re writing one other one as well, Written.
CB: Yes. I have a script but it needs more writing. That’ll be the next thing I’ll be shooting, hopefully.
TB: I know the cast is out for Allegro but who’s going to be in Prediction and Off Screen?
CB: Off Screen and Prediction have the same actors. It’s sort of a dual movie. In many ways they’ll work together when you see them. They star Nicolas Bro, he’s actually also in Reconstruction. He plays the friend Leo, the big heavy guy.
TB: I’ve seen him in a lot of stuff. He’s very good.
CB: He’s wonderful. He’s never had a lead role so I gave him two. He’s actually in every single frame of both movies. He’s very dominant in those.
TB: How did you manage to get so many films going at once?
CB: I make them very cheaply. Prediction was actually a movie where I suddenly had time off because I had to do a project and suddenly had three months off where I didn’t have to do a thing. I had a lot of energy and felt like I had to go and do some work and I had this idea and with Mogens Rukov, we wrote the script in a week, and we went to the Danish Film Institute and got some money to work more on the script but instead of working on the script we just shot the movie. So we shot it very, very cheaply but we managed to get from Copenhagen to Stockholm to Paris. The movie got far around Europe but it was very small. If you do things like that it’s easy to make many movies. Well, it’s not easy but it’s feasible if you do it cheaply like that.
TB: You said that you like to work with a lot of the same people. Are you repeating your crew from film to film? Is that part of what helps you work so quickly?
CB: Absolutely. I think that we are on a continuous quest. When we finish one movie we may have been in the process of figuring something out that was very interesting, but we couldn’t fit it in. But we want to go further, so with the next movie we have already planned how we should shoot things, the direction of the locations and the style because we got the ideas from the previous one. When you work with the same people a lot of the work has already been done on the previous film and a lot of things don’t have to be said because we are on the same track. I feel very good about working with the same people from movie to movie. I think that it helps you to evolve and grow.