Pål Øie • Director of Astrup – Catching the Flame
"Using Nikolai Astrup’s letters allowed us to be closer to him"
by Maud Forsgren
- A biopic in Norwegian cinemas this week, Astrup – Catching the Flame the fourth feature from Norwegian director Pål Øie, paints the portrait of Nikolai Astrup, painter from the Fjord region
With Astrup – Catching the Flame [+see also:
interview: Pål Øie
film profile], his fourth feature, Norwegian director Pål Øie invites us to follow in the footsteps of Nikolai Astrup, a Norwegian artist whose works, paintings and engravings mostly on wood, are considered by many to be as worthy of attention as those of his contemporary Munch. On screen, he is portrayed by Danish actor Thure Lindhardt, one of the stars of the show The Bridge. This biopic, which had its world premiere on 27 September in the Fjord region in Jølster, where Astrup comes from, is produced by Einar Loftesnes for the production company Handmade Films in Norwegian Woods and distributed by Norsk Film Distribusjon.
Cineuropa: You’ve already made a film about a Norwegian painter before.
Pål Øie : Yes, in 2013. It was Lars Hertervig – The Frenzy of Light, a documentary for television, co-directed with Karl Johan Paulsen. It is with the same Karl Johan that I wrote the script for Astrup – Catching the Flame. I was a little hesitant to set off on this project because I am very attached to Jølster. I feel at home there, and I didn’t want to disturb this haven of peace with the commotion of a film shoot. I finally let myself be convinced. Four years to make this film! We dedicated a lot of time talking with experts, putting together all the documents, discussing the iconography. This, without even mentioning our search for ways to finance this big production: more than two hundred extras, period costumes, many accessories, weather conditions we had to adapt to. Thankfully, the local population was very motivated and helped us a lot.
It sounds like it was a complicated process.
Let’s say it was… complex. Setting up all the indispensable elements all the while respecting the delays that were imposed on us has not always been easy, but I must say that, overall, we were lucky. I was also very lucky to have by my side Sjur Aarthun, the director of photography, who also worked with me on the editing. We’ve been working together for twenty five years. But I was the one who had the pleasure of filming the sequences shot with the Super 8 camera.
Some of the scenes in the film are very intense.
We chose to bring Astrup and the people around him to life through dialogue and acting, with the help of stories about Astrup collected from reliable sources, but also through his letters and through the notes and commentaries he wrote. The quotes are completely accurate, we didn’t change a thing. There are pictures of Astrup, but he was never filmed and his voice was never recorded. Using his letters in the film allowed us to be closer to him, to access his privacy and to try and share it with others. He loved writing and he wrote very well. In his letters, his various moods are freely expressed: his fits of anger, his moments of glee, his frustrations, his sense of humour… We discover in them his tastes and distates: we learn, for example, that he admired the English painted Constable, the Swiss symbolist Böcklin, the musical paintings of Kandinsky, but that he did not like Munch. Astrup is sometimes envious, jealous, even a little mean-spirited, but he is frank and direct. He has the courage of his convictions. I’m impressed by all the things he managed to accomplish in a relatively short time, despite being ill. I admire the man as much as I admire the artist.
Who was Astrup writing to?
Mostly to his close friends, the painter Bernt Tunold and Anton Fond, the village teacher, played by Dennis Storhøi, who will remain his faithful friend to the end. He also wrote a lot to his wife Engel, played by Henriette Marø. No correspondence with his father, however, though his relationship with his mother was rather good.
A few unsettling sequences remind us that, with Dark Woods, Hidden [+see also:
film profile] and Villmark 2 [+see also:
film profile], you are one of the Norwegian experts in horror films.
I wanted to give shape to Astrup’s feverish dreams, to the dark corners of his world. I also wanted to make the viewers aware of a whole mythology, of the rituals, beliefs, superstitions which were — and in many ways still are — strongly rooted in the souls of the inhabitants of the region. It’s an integral part of their everyday lives. A universe that is both mysterious and familiar which we can find, for example, in Kittelsen’s famous drawings of trolls.
(Translated from French)
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