Yngvild Sve Flikke • Director of Ninjababy
“I wanted to tell a story about a young woman who has this sex drive most of my friends had in their twenties”
by Marta Bałaga
- BERLINALE 2021: In her first feature, the Norwegian director raises some questions about motherhood
In Ninjababy [+see also:
interview: Yngvild Sve Flikke
film profile], premiering in the Generation 14plus section of this year’s Berlinale, when Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) finds out she's pregnant, she is in for another surprise: she is already six months along and the chance for abortion has passed. Before making any decisions, she starts drawing her “sneaky ninjababy”. And it's a talkative one.
Cineuropa: Whenever I watch a film about pregnancy, a mother-to-be usually looks her child in the eyes and everything changes forever. Rakel wouldn't buy that, I assume?
Yngvild Sve Flikke: I wanted to raise some questions about motherhood. Is it something that just comes naturally to everyone, or is it different for each one of us? In most of my work, I like to question gender limits. Can we really say that something is inherently “female” or “male”? I don't believe that.
I worked with Inga Sætre, who wrote the graphic novel [Fallteknikk] this is loosely based on, and my first idea was to have this mix of live-action and animation. It’s “emotional animation”, but we also wanted to use it for comedy, with drawings of all these big dicks. Just to get under Rakel's skin. Then I did two seasons of the series Home Ground and met screenwriter Johan Fasting – he came up with the “ninjababy” and elaborated on the male characters. I wanted to tell a story about a young woman who has this sex drive most of my friends had in their twenties. She sleeps around if she wants to, she is free-spirited. But when you get pregnant, your relationships with these men change. Both for you and for them.
She is not shamed in the film. Yes, three potential fathers are being discussed and her friend exclaims: “It's like Mamma Mia!”, but it's not a judgement.
You are in Poland and I know abortion is an issue there, but I didn't want this film to be about abortion. I didn't want to give her the option, to have that scene when she has to decide. Also because for me, it's obvious. I am a mother of two, but I will fight to my death for the right to choose.
Inga and I wanted to broaden the way women are shown in film. So not having her being shamed or having second thoughts was important. She feels she is not good enough to become a mother, but she doesn't feel ashamed of the way she lives or that her place is dirty. If she doesn't feel like taking a shower, she doesn't take a shower. We talked a lot about the pressure that we put on ourselves, the pressure that's put on us by society. Girls need to learn not to please others too much — you have to please yourself, too.
Rakel is so comfortable in her own skin that it's almost shocking. In rom coms, at best, you can get what Mindy Kaling called a “klutz”: a good-looking yet clumsy woman, “like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society.”
In my previous film, I showed three women: one who was in her twenties, another in her late thirties, and a third in her sixties. I really connected to the oldest one: she didn't care about what others thought anymore. We need more of that when we are younger, so don't regret your mistakes! I mean, you will regret them, but you don't need to show it. Rakel isn't clumsy or naive. She doesn't know what she wants to do in her life, but I still wanted people to see her for what she does, not how she looks – even though Kristine is so wonderful, despite Rakel's greasy hair. That's what I am trying to teach my children, but it doesn't work. Now, it's all about looks for them [laughter].
Some of her exchanges with “ninjababy” are rather brutal, vulgar even. How far did you want to push it?
Kristine says that after making this film she started to swear a lot. When Rakel feels trapped, she turns to aggression. She fights. “Vulgar” is also something I feel women are not supposed to be. If I say something vulgar, people react. When a man does it, it's ok. But when girls are alone, they can be blunt and direct. Rakel says crazy things, like that all 12-year-old boys should get a vasectomy. When you have a good friend, you can say those things out loud.
It's the Bridesmaids effect: give women a safe space and they will talk. And a sweet love interest to balance it out.
I love that movie! They did something there that makes me want to watch it again and again. You see how stupid, rude and cruel women can be, in a funny way.
Rakel doesn't really change that much – it's the male character [played by Arthur Berning] who does. They call him “Jesus Dick”, label him for us, until he is literally out of the woods, proving there is always more to a person. With Mos, I worked with Nader Khademi before. I gave him a beard, to make him even cuddlier, and he is accepting everything — he sees her. Rakel tries to be tougher than she is, but she has empathy, she is vulnerable — if you see her. And he does.
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