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Joern Utkilen • Director

"I have no interest in faithfully reproducing reality by creating a simple copy"


- Norwegian director Joern Utkilen tells us about his debut feature film Lake over Fire and invites us to ponder his creative process

Joern Utkilen • Director

Lake over Fire [+see also:
interview: Joern Utkilen
film profile
, the debut feature film by Joern Utkilen, a Norwegian director with an unusual creative approach, has just opened Oslo Pix Festival. This is a true pseudo-western with all the fanfare, which is both respected and misappropriated: a sheriff, a saloon, guns, horses, forgiveness, and run-down mopeds acting as gallant steeds, etc. The film immerses us in the fake, the glitz and the tat, with parodic and satirical intentions, naturally. Quirky humour galore. The film will be released in Norwegian cinemas on 8 June.

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Cineuropa: How did the screenplay come about?
Joern Utkilen:
The film is mainly the result of intuition and various associated ideas. It all started with conversations with the actors, about themselves, about their thoughts. I then kept some of the elements, overlaid some images, and the story took shape intuitively. I don’t usually question myself during that stage of the process. Afterwards I sometimes analyse or try to make sense of certain things.

The "snail-factor" intrigued me.
Letters, phones, carrier pigeons... the message ends up at its destination whatever its mode of transport. I deliberately depart from reality. I keep my distance. I am happy if the snail makes a strong impression on the audience in the moment and leaves them with something to think about afterwards. There’s also some detachment in terms of the acting, or the non-acting, rather. The actors’ faces are not very expressive, there are few gestures, mimicry. This reinforces the distance between the audience and what is happening on screen.

Sometimes the characters are just silhouettes, shadows.
It's up to the viewer to fill in the gaps. I rely on my intuition, but I know what I’m doing, I try to encourage the viewer to let go of his or her automatic thoughts.

And encourage the audience to let go of the familiar?
Not necessarily. It all depends on the train's destination and who's driving it. The key is to take a critical look at what is around us, the media, society in general. I offer a different perspective as I have no interest in faithfully reproducing reality by creating a simple copy. I want to break away from reality in order to shake up the habits and certainties that are so deeply rooted in us, but I am not an interventionist. I maintain the same approach during all stages of creation and direction.

Your film features some nice people, and some less nice people...
And other types of people, too, some who are devoid of empathy, who want to exploit the genuinely empathetic. These unscrupulous people, who aren’t really bad people, per se, usually end up winning because they have strength and the power on their side. We are hugely powerless in the face of this pitiless appetite for strength and power. What remains when all is said and done, and what is most important to me, is love.

We are all in the same boat, as one of the songs in the film says, which you wrote, I believe.
Yes. I also borrowed some tunes from Arvid Sletta, an unusual musician who I dedicated a documentary to, Statement Too (2016): he operates off-grid and just wants to make his own music. The German composer Schneider TM also wrote some original music for the film.

Lake over Fire... a very mysterious title!
It comes from a Chinese book called Yi Jing or the Book of Changes, a treatise on wisdom with a poetic, playful and divinatory dimension to it that inspired two of my short films Earth over Wind (2014) and Wind over Lake (2010). The phrase "lake over fire" suggests renewal, a healthy shedding of the skin. Turning a page in order to make room for a new chapter.

(Translated from French)

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