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TORONTO 2019 Discovery

Jorunn Myklebust Syversen • Director of Disco

“I’m simply a witness. My film is more of an observation than a denunciation”

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- At our request, Norwegian director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen unpicks her second feature film Disco, a work presented in the Discovery section of the Toronto Film Festival

Jorunn Myklebust Syversen • Director of Disco

Disco [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jorunn Myklebust Syversen
film profile
]
, the second full-length film by Norwegian director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen, is participating in the Discovery section of the Toronto International Film Festival. The title is produced by Maria Ekerhovd for Mer Film who are also in charge of distribution. The company previously achieved international success with Iram Haq’s What Will People Say [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Iram Haq
film profile
]
(2017) and Ole Giæver’s Out of Nature [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ole Giæver
film profile
]
(2014), two films which likewise had their world premières in Toronto. Disco has also been invited to participate in the New Directors section of the upcoming San Sebastian International Film Festival, before hitting Norwegian cinemas on 4 October.

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Cineuropa: Who is Mirjam, the heroine of this film for which you’re also credited as the screenwriter?
Jorunn Myklebust Syversen:
She’s a disco dancing champion. She’s a source of great pride for the religious community she belongs to. Then, following an unfortunate fall, a setback, and the revelation of a worrying family secret, she finds herself racked by doubt and anxiety, despite the encouragement of those around her.  

Why did you choose this story?
I’ve always been interested in settings where people live in isolation, where human relationships are unbalanced. I try to understand the mechanics behind certain modes of operation. I think that in an environment where heavy-duty power relations are in force and where there’s a need to find meaning for one’s existence, the desire to dominate, to manipulate, grows ever stronger, because when we try to share and then impose our beliefs on others, we feel as if we’re living life to intense effect. At this point, it’s easy to veer towards abuses of power, especially if the community is easily influenced and manipulated.

Why did you decide to focus on religious communities?
I’m intrigued, fascinated even, by some young pastors; by their gestures as much as their jargon. They’re showmen through and through! I did some research, attended meetings at a few congregations, and what I noticed was that although there is some variation in the content, the method is often the same: publicity campaigns are involved, with the aim of promoting a certain product. They look to convey or even sell a spiritual message. It’s surprising to see followers who are sometimes prepared to give money in order to obtain divine favour. Generally speaking, those officiating are highly skilled when it comes to homing in on their audience, especially youngsters, who are so receptive to pretty packaging. They advocate freedom, modernity, but, in reality, the ideas and opinions they express are conservative.

Talk to us about your actors.
Per, the charismatic pastor and Mirjam’s stepfather, is played by Nicolai Cleve Broch. His ability to act on many different levels greatly impressed me. In fact, all the actors in the film are outstanding in my mind: Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Andrea Bræin Hovig, Espen Klouman Høiner, to name a few, without forgetting Josefine Frida Pettersen, of course, who plays Mirjam. Her talent as an actress and a dancer has won her the accolade of “Rising Star” in this year’s Toronto Film Festival. It’s the first time Norway has been awarded this honour. Josefine was also a star of the TV series Skam.

Your film looks at life through rose-tinted glasses…
Traditionally, rose [pink] is the colour of femininity, but it’s also closely associated with sentimentality, superficiality, frills and sequins. It represents the disco aesthetic, the easy life, the highly sexualised modern world, which contrasts with the narrow gate alluded to in the film. I was inspired by an animated TV series bathed in pink called Jem. I also spent a lot of time discussing the colour pallet with director of photography Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen: invasive visuals, dazzling images, games played with light by way of glass and mirrors, contrast effects… All these elements work towards creating an artificial atmosphere, a deceptive universe. It’s all then enhanced by the musical choices and compositions put forward by Jan Erik Mikalsen, Thom Hell, and Marius Kristiansen.

Your pink film is nevertheless rather dark…
There’s a recurrent theme in my films of a slowly worsening situation, a downwards spiral which can’t be escaped, especially if the person in question is vulnerable. I wanted to show just how easy it is to lose oneself, to lose one’s identity in the midst of destructive relationships. Mirjam, much like Anders in The Tree Feller [+see also:
trailer
interview: Jorunn Myklebust Syversen
film profile
]
, my previous film, is at a crucial moment in her life, a crisis point, and those around her aren’t aware of this. She hardly receives any help, and when people do try to help her, it doesn’t go very well. And yet there are caring, compassionate people in these communities…  

I find Mirjam somewhat passive
Little by little she loses her voice, the ability to express herself. But it’s not necessarily the person who’s suffering who’s the problem. She often falls victim to social pressure: physical appearance and social success are so important in these environments that feelings of inadequacy can often lead to a damaging sense of frustration.

What’s the answer to all this, in your opinion?
I don’t have one. I’m simply a witness. I observe, I show. My film is more of an observation that a denunciation.

It’s a worrying observation, which shines a light on ambiguities, contradictions…
We have to force ourselves to look reality in the face, with open eyes. Burying our heads in the sand isn’t the answer. Disco might get people talking. It’s a good thing. Either way, I would like us to be more attentive, more responsive to human suffering.

Why did you opt for a fiction film rather than a documentary?
My film is imbued, in my opinion, with a great deal of emotion, which the documentary form isn’t always able to express. And I feel more at ease with fiction when it comes to highlighting the complexity of human relations and giving free rein to the symbolism behind my choices.

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(Translated from French)

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