Where the heart is

Christian Tafdrup on Parents and dreaming to make movies.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

At breakfast with Anton Honik, Miri Ann Beuschel and Forældre director Christian Tafdrup
At breakfast with Anton Honik, Miri Ann Beuschel and Forældre director Christian Tafdrup Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Michael Haneke, a rabbit memory not from Alice In Wonderland, Danish fairy tales, Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Molière's Tartuffe and an Andrei Tarkovsky tracking shot pops up in my conversation with director/writer/actor Christian Tafdrup.

In a turn of events straight out of David Lynch's Lost Highway book of identity magic, Kjeld (Søren Malling of Nikolaj Arcel's A Royal Affair) dreams to relive his younger days. This comes true in unexpected ways through Miri Ann Beuschel and Elliott Crosset Hove. With their son Esben (Anton Honik) leaving for college, Kjeld and Vibeke (Bodil Jørgensen of Cæcilia Holbek Trier's Agnus Dei and Anders Thomas Jensen's Men & Chicken) feel that their suburban house has become too big and empty for them. They decide to move back into the small attic apartment in central Copenhagen - the real estate agent calls the place "super sexy" - where they were happy together 25 years ago before their son was born.

Vibeke (Miri Ann Beuschel) with Kjeld (Elliott Crosset Hove)
Vibeke (Miri Ann Beuschel) with Kjeld (Elliott Crosset Hove)

Be careful what you wish for, Tafdrup's beautifully crafted oedipal tragicomedy Parents (Forældre) suggests.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let's begin with the structure of your film. Did you take Lost Highway as an influence?

Christian Tafdrup: I did. But I had many kinds of influences and many references to other movies that I like. I had the plot line of this married couple moving back to their old apartment. Before writing the script, I worked more with moments for many many months. This is my first feature and there are many references to other movies.

AKT: For example?

CT: One of them is of course the Lost Highway moment where there is a switch of character. I looked at the specific scene in Lost Highway. I also saw Rosemary's Baby by Polanski. There is just an image where the smoke is coming out in the frame. There is, of course, this Tarkovsky dolly shot and there are some Haneke references.

Miri Ann Beuschel on her director: "I knew that he had a dream. I didn't know the details."
Miri Ann Beuschel on her director: "I knew that he had a dream. I didn't know the details." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Where are the Haneke references?

CT: That is just the way he likes to shoot how people drive a car. To believe you can have a long shot without cutting away. I've always been dreaming to make movies and when you finally get a chance to make a feature, I wanted to kind of have a saying 'hello' to many of my influences. Of course this movie is more than just realism but I'm not trying to make a David Lynch movie.

AKT: Some rituals seem to work structuring the film. One is laundry. One is raking leaves. A third one, not really an action, is the rabbit. Are these three of your signposts?

CT: The rabbit, yes. There are a lot of elements. There is a couple who actually try to find their way back to each other but they can't really talk about it. So I had to find some actions. They are simple on the surface but there is something underneath. There is the couple, the child moves away, they do the kitchen, the garden. In a way it's really empty.

Kjeld (Søren Malling) with Vibeke (Bodil Jørgensen): "The rabbit was something I had from my own parents ..."
Kjeld (Søren Malling) with Vibeke (Bodil Jørgensen): "The rabbit was something I had from my own parents ..."

How could I show that they really know each other? They are in the bathroom at the same time, they do the laundry, the garden. The rabbit was actually an idea … I was very much in love with this idea that you try to reconstruct your past. The rabbit was something I had from my own parents because they had a rabbit when they were young.

AKT: So it's not Alice In Wonderland, it's your family pet history?

CT: I took a lot of things from my own parents. The idea for the film actually came from a dream I had seven years ago where I dreamt that my parents moved back to their pre-parenthood apartment. And I visited them in the dream and they were dressing up like they were 21 and my father had his old beard and they were kissing again. I was actually screaming in the dream.

AKT [to Anton Honik and Miri Ann Beuschel]: Did you know this?

Miri Ann Beuschel: I knew that he had a dream. I didn't know the details.

Anton Honik is Esben: "It's a common Danish name but it was actually because I started to write the story as a fairy tale ..."
Anton Honik is Esben: "It's a common Danish name but it was actually because I started to write the story as a fairy tale ..." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Do you like your mother?

CT: I do. I think I have too close a relationship to my parents.

AKT: There was one tiny moment in the film, I thought was brilliant about the child leaving the family home. It is the father going into the son's room to shut off the heater. It's the first thing he does when the son is out of the door. Everything is in that, all the confusion. It tells us who this man is.

CT: It's wonderful that you noticed the action. There are a lot of small actions - that's how I'm trying to tell the story. They don't say "we're so lonely", we have a scene where he turns off the heat because they don't need the room anymore. That is so full of sorrow and it describes the empty nest syndrome. I worked with many of the scenes as if they were small poems. They have to be very precise.

AKT: There is the name of the boy, Esben. Does it mean anything?

Vibeke with Esben (Anton Honik) and Kjeld
Vibeke with Esben (Anton Honik) and Kjeld

CT: I'll tell you. It's such a silly reason why. It's a common Danish name but it was actually because I started to write the story as a fairy tale, as a children's fairy tale. In traditional Danish fairy tales there are always three children and their names are Peter, Paul and Esben. There were three sons in the beginning but I cut out two of the sons from the script. The youngest is Esben, that's why.

AKT: Do you speak German? There is an idiom, although it's spelled differently, that someone is "shivering like Espen leaves."

CT: Ah! Yes, we have that in Danish, too. But I didn't think about that meaning at all.

AKT: I connected it to the mother's fervent raking of leaves.

Kjeld with Vibeke: "With Bodil and Søren, I think they know which direction they should go."
Kjeld with Vibeke: "With Bodil and Søren, I think they know which direction they should go."

CT: I have to say that at the Q&A! Thank you.

AKT: You're welcome. The fairy tale aspect is interesting.

CT: I wanted the movie to be a little fairy tale. It's not totally realism. My inspiration was really a fairy tale.

AKT: At the door of the apartment there is graffiti that says "rabies." Is that coincidence?

CT: Wow, you really looked at the movie. At the new apartment?

AKT: Yeah. The new/old apartment.

CT: I didn't even notice that myself after watching it 200 times. It's coincidence. We just chose a street and a building.

Parents US poster
Parents US poster

AKT: And you play the real estate agent?

CT: I did, because I'm educated as an actor. I work as an actor as well. We didn't make this movie for very much money and we couldn't actually afford a dolly. If I played the agent, I didn't have to give money to an actor. And in a way, I thought it was funny to be in your own movie in a very stupid and small part. He is kind of the devil in the movie, trying to tempt the main character to do something.

AKT: I don't understand much Danish, but do you call the apartment "super sexy?" The subtitles don't translate that.

CT: Yeah, I do. "It's super sexy" - trying to take out all the memories.

AKT: The more the mother gets involved with the son, the more the father gets involved with the apartment. The apartment collapses and crumbles. He is young. I was thinking of Oscar Wilde, The Picture Of Dorian Gray. The apartment is aging while he doesn't.

CT: Wow. I know Oscar Wilde but I actually didn't have that as a reference. We thought a lot about the apartment. I wanted it to reflect how the relations go. The apartment should just be a ruin in the end.

AKT: The actors playing the parents couldn't come to Tribeca because they are on stage, you say?

CT: Yes. I think, Bodil Jørgensen, the female lead, is doing a Tartuffe play in Copenhagen. And Søren Malling, he is not doing theater. He does a lot of movies. I think he is on set. They are very busy actors.

AKT: They are very good. His performance is very strong.

CT: He is very minimalistic. He doesn't do much but you can tell a lot of stories from his face. He didn't speak much. With Bodil and Søren, I think they know which direction they should go.

Parents will be screened at Michael Moore's 12th annual Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan running from July 26 through July 31.

Coming up - Anton Honik and Miri Ann Beuschel on their roles in Parents.

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