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Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen • Director

"The music is the binding thread of the film"


- TORONTO 2017: Valley of Shadows, the first feature film by Norwegian filmmaker Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen premiered internationally at the Toronto Film Festival

Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen • Director

This year, the Discovery category at the Toronto International Film Festival includes Valley of Shadows [+see also:
film review
interview: Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen
film profile
, the first feature film by Norwegian filmmaker Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen, whose short films like Everything Will Be OK have often won awards. Valley of Shadows has been produced by Film Farms. A promising debut for an art film that is already garnering much interest and curiosity.

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Cineuropa: You have recently said that you film is the nightmare version of Peter and the Wolf.
Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen: Yes, I am interested in fables and allegories, in mythology and children’s tales, these stories that we often believe are regional but are actually extremely universal, sometime with a moral and often with joyful gravitas. One example is Draumkvedet (The Dream Poem), a Norwegian ballad from the Middle Ages. I read a lot when I was a child – traditional stories of course – but especially Swedish literature for children. As a child, I thought a lot and was hungry to learn. Reading Bruno Bettelheim was also something that I draw greatly from.

It looks like there are Gothic elements in Valley of Shadows. Were you inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein?
That’s not the only one. In fact, more than literature, the visual arts, especially painting, have served as my inspiration, my Gothic fantasy: Albrecht Dürer, Gustave Doré, and Lars Hertervig, this Norwegian painter whose landscapes of tormented trees are irresistibly eye-catching.

Tell us a bit about the actors.
Adam Ekeli
, who plays the protagonist Aslak was chosen from among the first few who auditioned. This child, who was six when we began shooting, has an incredible presence. He is an adult soul in a child’s body. He surprised us with how natural he is, but also how serious and mature. Kathrine Fagerland plays Astrid, the mother of this only child that asks a lot of questions. She has been in many of the detective Varg Veum films, a character created by writer Gunnar Staalesen.

You have also used a young Norwegian singer-writer-composer…
Yes, John Olav Nilsen. I chose him for his characteristic face, his expressiveness, his presence. To tell you the truth, he plays more of an enigma than a character in the film.

The cinematographer is…
My elder brother Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen. We get along very well. We understand each other in an intuitive way. He is known for his work with Hisham Zaman, the director of Before Snowfall [+see also:
film profile
and Letter to the King [+see also:
film profile
. Marius and I worked together on all creative stages. We both attended – with a few years between us – the National Film School in Łódź, Poland, one of Europe’s leading institutes. We have a very close collaboration, like the one between Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist. But we also know how to, when necessary, stick to our respective fields. Usually I begin writing, then Marius comes in, assisted this time around by Clément Tuffreau.

Was it easy to find the locations to shoot in?
For many months, Marius and I scoured the entire south and south-west of Norway. We finally chose the area around Kristiansand on the Kvinesdal coast, and on Figgjo in Rogaland county. We have shot on 35mm. Of course, using digital does have its advantages: You are less dependent on the weather, for example. But, in spite of the eventual difficulties, shooting analogue is more organic and creates an incomparable texture.

The dialogues?
There are not many dialogues in my film, contrary to certain French films that I find too talkative. I love silent films, especially those by the Swedish filmmaker Victor Sjöström for the evocative power of their images. I also like, to just name a few, the films of Carl T. Dreyer, Bergman, Mizoguchi and his universe of ghosts…

Does the music play a role in your film?
Oh yes! As there are not many dialogues, the music can take its time. I wanted the soundtrack to be grand, beautiful, but not sentimental. It is the brainchild of Zbigniew Preisner who composes for Krzysztof Kieślowski’s films. The Warsaw Symphony Orchestra has also contributed. The music is the binding thread of the film. It is an expression of the inner life of Aslak and also reflects my style and my specific cinematographic language.

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(Translated from French)

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