Ole Bornedal, Just Another Love Story
From his eclectic resumé, it’s clear that Ole Bornedal likes to challenge himself so (almost always) refuses to return to familiar territory. The Danish writer-director was born in the small town of Nørresundby in 1959, and became a director of Danish radio plays in the 1980s after failing to get into film school. In the early 90s, he moved into television, where he wrote and directed sketch comedy and political satire as well as the colorfully titled TV movie Masturbator (1993). Bornedal made his feature film debut in 1994 with Nightwatch, a thriller about a law student who moonlights as a morgue worker, and returned to the small screen for the television drama series Charlot and Charlotte (1996). When his Hollywood remake of Nightwatch (1997), starring Ewan McGregor, Patricia Arquette and Nick Nolte, was not a success, Bornedal waited five years before making his next feature, the period melodrama I Am Dina. He then spent the following four years on a sabbatical from film, writing and directing plays at the Aveny Teatret theater company in Copenhagen, and returned to cinematic ventures in 2007 with the children’s comedy horror The Substitute.
Just Another Love Story, Bornedal’s latest movie, finds him in a darkly playful mood: Jonas (Anders W. Bertelsen) is a middle-aged crime scene photographer who is restless in his role as a dutiful husband and father. However, he is offered a chance to escape his familiar existence when he is mistaken for the boyfriend of Julia (Rebecka Hemse), a beautiful, young woman who ends up comatose after a car crash Jonas inadvertently caused. In Just Another Love Story, Bornedal riffs on film noir tropes – the femme fatale figure is pure and innocent, while the antihero is the willing architect of his own downfall – and seems to be enjoying himself greatly as he creates a tantalizing web of deceit and then allows it to slowly and messily unravel. Handsomely shot and tightly edited, Bornedal’s movie offers a highly entertaining take on well-worn themes that adeptly balances old-fashioned storytelling with modern, meta inventiveness.
Filmmaker interviewed Bornedal by email and discussed genre filmmaking, his ideas about the modern musical, and why he says filmmaking is “just rough sex on the nearest toilet.”
Filmmaker: Where did the idea for Just Another Love Story come from?
Bornedal: I invented the title – liked it – then I saw a poster in my mind: the close up of a tormented sweaty, bloody man looking straight at us. The poster and the title: Just Another Love Story – I liked that. Then I started writing the screenplay.
Filmmaker: How instinctive was it for you to write the screenplay? (Are you usually a quick or fluent writer?)
Bornedal: Depends. I wrote Deliver us from Evil [Bornedal’s next film] while shooting Just Another Love Story. It’s a story about an illegal immigrant being accused for a murder he did not commit and crazy drunk racist villagers who wants to lynch him. A sort of modern mix between Peckinpah and Bergman going berserk. It’s very brutal and very violent and was quite honestly very easy to write. Human brutality does not have to be described with “finesse”. But Just Another Love Story was a long journey. The complexity of the intrigue – people playing many different identities and lots of lies – that is very difficult. It’s like mathematics – and one should avoid that…
Filmmaker: What were your aims for the film? The title seems to be ironic and playfully misleading.
Bornedal: All films have to deal with some sort of discussion of honesty. I guess the honesty that my film tries to awake amongst the audience is that everybody carries a dream and everybody (more or less) carries the need for a fulfillment in life – that life very rarely offers. It’s a very provocative and dangerous discussion to open – especially when sitting next to your loved one – but I guess it’s better to face it than lie about it. At least the movie can offer you two hours of good entertainment – at no cost – except for the ticket. Of course the title is a little bit cynical – but not as cynical as thousands of hollow Hollywood films showing love in slow motion with thick butter on the lens and shallow actors fighting for their lives in stupid screenplays about man, woman, flowers, violins and Lassie.
Filmmaker: What were your stylistic and narrative influences on this project?
Bornedal: My own, I guess. My film style is choreographed and every camera move has its meaning in a dance together with the actor. It’s like trying to use the entire palette of the media. I do not fancy the handheld shaky-making-you-seasick cinematography. Or letting actors sit around a table by themselves and let them improvise until they die – AND the audience dies too. I believe in Francis Ford Coppola and David Lean, Bergman and Polanski – who know about style and shadows – and all that is hidden in the magnitude of feelings between the lines of the aesthetics.
Filmmaker: Do you see the film as ant-romantic or pessimistic about the existence of pure or long-lasting love?
Bornedal: No. the film is not cynical like that. That would be a pity if it carried that message. I guess my protagonist is just suffering from the lack of courage to really speak up and tell his wonderful wife what he really misses in this life. Perhaps he is not even able to tell himself what it is. Many marriages could have been saved if honest communication was a part of the daily routine. But I guess a lot of us is really afraid of taking the chance. Instead we carry secrets, carry them straight into loneliness.
Filmmaker: The film seems very aware of genre rules and plays with them. Do you enjoy working within a genre framework?
Bornedal: No. I really don’t care about that. Every film has its own demand. It creates its own set of rules, and I basically just have to follow. Whether it becomes a thriller, a sci-fi-action, a romantic noir or a comedy doesn’t really interest me until a long time after when interviewers starts asking me questions about genre. The straight and honest answer is: I don’t know, I just make movies.
Filmmaker: Is the film’s use of locations in Denmark and Cambodia somehow an expression of how international you feel as a filmmaker?
Bornedal: I don’t care about where I film my stories. I feel I’m part of a community of storytellers that produces stories to the people of this world. I have the privilege that almost all of my stories have reached a wide audience in the world. All my Danish films are being remade in the US – some by other directors – but they are still MY stories. I could just as easily work in France or the US, Japan, Australia or Germany. It doesn’t really matter to me.
Filmmaker: Do you consider yourself part of the recent new wave of Danish filmmakers? Is there a sense of community or shared aesthetics or ideas amongst you?
Bornedal: Well… that’s a difficult question to answer. Some people claim that my first film, Nightwatch, actually set off the “Danish new wave”. But I’m not sure about that. I know, however, for sure that it was the first film for a generation of filmmakers that told them that you could actually tell BOTH entertaining AND clever, serious stories in European film, and that it was allowed! Later on, the whole Dogma wave started, which really never interested me. However The Celebration is still one of the best Danish films ever made – but then again it would also have been if it has been made outside the Dogma-rules. Dogma also means celibacy, and I don’t like that. Its not sensual, it’s not passionate, it’s not wild, it’s very Scandinavian and Ibsen and Strindberg. I guess I’m more Jewish or Italian. Expressionistic and high tempered – but in this sort of very charming low-key sort of way…….
Filmmaker: Why do you think that Denmark has produced so many exciting filmmakers recently?
Bornedal: Because of me and Trier and other respectless anti-authoritative egos. And a film institute with subsidies, two national supported TV-channels and a country that celebrates good and clever stories, not always just entertainment.
Filmmaker: You took four years away from making movies to run a theater company. How was that experience, and did it affect the way you now perceive cinema?
Bornedal: I’m one of the very few filmmakers who has both written for film and for the stage – as well as being both a film director AND a stage director. I believe it has taught me how to work with actors in the most sensitive and profound meaning of the word. Doing theater is a very intimate thing compared to making film. You spend weeks searching for the right answer for the right feeling. If I should compare it to making love (which is always very funny to do), then doing theater is the longest foreplay you can imagine with a great orgasm on opening night; doing film is just rough sex on the nearest toilet!
Filmmaker: Do you see yourself as someone primarily working in film, or are your theater and television projects just as central to your artistic identity?
Bornedal: I’m only doing films from now on. Theater is an old mistress and one day perhaps I will return to her. But I’m a busy man, I do not have time for the foreplay. (Talking about films, that is!)
Filmmaker: After your breakthrough success with (the original version of) Nightwatch, you went to remake it in the U.S. How do you feel looking back on that time? Was working in Hollywood – and the consequences of working there – different to what you expected?
Bornedal: Not really. But Bob and Harvey were tough bosses. Then again, everything in filmmaking is tough. Hollywood has its expression of “toughness” as Scandinavia has its definition. But of course it’s easier for me to move in Scandinavian waters: from idea to actually filming the story, it’s not a very long road. I have the feeling that in Hollywood, you need to have endless discussions before you come to some sort of reality at the end of the tunnel. These days I have conference calls over the Atlantic with me in the one end being examined by four of five executives on the other end trying to be convinced that I can make a movie. That’s pretty tough, knowing for sure that I can actually do that…
Filmmaker: You have been working on diverse projects recently – what position do you wish to have as a filmmaker? Who do you look up to as people whose careers inspire you?
Bornedal: I still want to do my two best films, as I mentioned. And hopefully I can create some really great international stories in the future. I think I have a golden goal in mixing the best of my psychological knowledge of character work on the European continent with my knowledge AND love for the classic American ability to simply tell good stories. That mix is the juice that creates big movies. And the masterpieces we remember carry that: strong character and strong storytelling.
Filmmaker: When was the last time you wished you had a different job?
Bornedal: When I was twelve and helped the milkman carry out milk in the neighborhood for five dollars a day.
Filmmaker: When was the last time you cried in a film, and which film was it?
Bornedal: I always cry when the feeling is there and its well performed, and the last time was a few hours ago. I watched Finding Neverland with my kids and seeing Freddie Highmore in that movie made me cry my heart out. I tried to hide it, though. I find it a little embarrassing to cry in front of my kids. They start laughing at me.
Filmmaker: If you had an unlimited budget and could cast whoever you wanted (alive or dead), what film would you make?
Bornedal: I do not need unlimited budgets in order to create a big movie. But I’m developing a musical right now, Beat. It’s to be shot in the US, it’s a modern version of West Side Story, except very brutal: lots of hip-hop, lots of music, lots of blood, love, sensuality and action, beautiful without being sentimental, brutal without being cynical. It needs modern daredevil-ish actors. Or a modern version of Sound of Music – that could be really interesting. The story is terrific, the drama is strong. Taking the musical into modern days of the extreme, that’s a real challenge.
Filmmaker: What’s the most embarrassing film you watched the whole of on a plane?
Bornedal: Never happened. How stupid would that be? Watching the WHOLE of an embarrassing film? No way – but I know they are there! I’m afraid it’s very often American love stories or wannabe comedies; I see them on the lists and then I go to the games instead. And how embarrassing is THAT for the producers: being out-matched by an electronic game of solitaire??