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netribution > features > interview with kristian levring > page one

Following Lars Von triers and Tomas Vintenberg with Dogme no. 4 is no mean feat, not least when you're directing Shakespeare in a desert in a foreign tongue. Kristian Levring was a film aficionado before shooting started, now, after getting hot and dirty with DV, he's a new convert. What's more he attacks the moves to make more film-like DV cameras such as the Sony 24fp as stupid - if you want to make it look like film, then shoot on film. Mark Stephenson met the Hitchcock and Conrad loving director.

| by mark stephenson |

| in edinburgh |

The film seems to me to work on different levels; it is full of ambiguity. By showing it to us through the eyes of the black onlooker it becomes mythologised.
Yes, he is very important. He is like the Greek Chorus. He is the only witness. But, of course, this film is very much about telling a story, and he tells a story in a specific way and I tell it in a different way, and they all tell stories in different ways. There are many scenes like this in the film. There is a scene where the French girl tells a story to the American girl, and then we get what the American actually thinks she says.

I think the film starts with them waking up in bus. So what is it that they are waking up to? Is it reality? What is it? I think the end, I could so easily have a made a scene where they're rescued but I thought that was not really what it was about. It does not matter if they get rescued or not in the bigger sense. And what is it? Are these people angels? Are they soldiers? I didn't think it suited the film to make it too explicit.

For me one of the interesting features of the film is that, like all Dogme films, it is rooted in real emotions, and yet at the same time it feels very dream-like. People can enter a building in daylight/night and then exit in night/day.
Although that is the reality of that kind of nature but it is written like that, actually. I find it really interesting in cinema when you can play on what is reality and what is not. Because it was shot in quite a real way, you know? I thought that was something intriguing and something that I would like to explore more.

In what sense would you like to explore that more? The disjunction of photographic reality and external reality?
I think it is really interesting when you can work in something that is reality, that in an immediate way that you sense is reality, but something in the back of your mind says, no, it is not. No comparison at all, but I think Hitchcock did that sometimes in an incredible way. I love him and I am a great fan of him, I would never make a Hitchcock film but feel that he was a real master in that way. In that way I think he was the only director that filmed nightmares. He was so obviously right because he filmed them as real, because a nightmare when you dream it is always real.

You seemed to be tapping into the subconscious of the characters. And it seemed to me that you need very special actors to be able to do this kind of thing, to give themselves in this way.
You need somebody who is ready to give themselves, open up and go in dangerous places for themselves. The difficulty of that is that they really needed to trust me and know that I would never exploit them when they were in those kinds of situation. When I chose the actors, they are so different if you look at them, but they all had that in common that they were willing to go to dangerous…dangerous sounds so big - that they willing to go places where things are difficult. So much acting is just about doing things as we're used to. To me that's not really very interesting. To me it's more interesting to see places and things that we're not used to.

Because the emotions felt so raw, there was a feeling at times that the actors were playing out their own psychodramas.
There is that element to it. Sometimes I think that kind of film can get gratuitous, you know? It's a very fine balance to do that. Sometimes perhaps you go; sometimes perhaps you don't go close enough to the edge. But if you find that edge, I think it's really interesting.

Do you think you ever went over the edge in this?
No. And I don't think that's so hard for me to say because it's only people who see the film with fresh eyes who can really say that. To judge one's own work is almost impossible.

Did setting the film in the desert set you any special challenges in so far as maintaining the Dogme principles went? Do you think you have maintained the Dogme principles?
I think I have pushed myself as hard as I could. It's really hard to do a Dogme film. It's like forgetting 20 years of schooling but the script was written as a Dogme film, because form and content had to marry. For me, Dogme is pure. It's about being pure as a director and getting rid of 20 years of bad habits. This film is about people who get rid of 20 years of bad habits in their life. It's also about a man putting on a play, although he has no props, no actors, so he is in some ways doing a Dogme play. But it's also about putting on King Lear and King Lear is a great inspiration to the film. King Lear is exactly about a man who is stripped of everything he has. So to me all those things were important to put in. Because I find that when you just use a form without it being reflected in the content, it gets kind of gratuitous.

Watching this I felt that this and The Idiots were two films which commented on Dogme itself. They're kind of self-reflective in that sense.
I agree with that. I actually think that Lars and Tomas and Soren agree with that as well.

So would you say that these two films more than the other Dogme films are self-reflecting in a way?
I think they're more reflecting on Dogme. I think that Lars's The Idiots is the purest Dogme film that was made and that will ever be made. I don't think my film is as pure a Dogme film as his. I think Thomas' film, Festen, is pure Dogme film in another way. I think I found what was really important doing this film. I did it after they did Festen and The Idiots, and Mifune and I did mine, I found it important to show that Dogme didn't become a genre and that every Dogme film should be different. So those rules don't make you do the same film all the time. So I felt that was my contribution, to say, 'you can do a different Dogme film. You can do a film that is different from The Idiots.'

They are all, though, about community.
I don't know why that is and I talked about that. Mifune isn't about community in the same way.

No but it is about a small group of people. I guess the rules necessitate that you concentrate on people and character.
It's always character-driven. I think if you are a director who wants to do Mission Impossible, Dogme is not the right thing. There's nothing wrong in that but if you are more interested in character, Dogme is really interesting.

Lars said in an interview that he thought it would be impossible to make a perfect Dogme film. What do you think?
I completely agree with that. As I say, you can push yourself as much but there are some contradictory things in the rules. That's the fun of it. So no, I think you can't. But you see, to me Dogme is so much about directing it's a tool for a director. The reason why the four original ones were probably better than some of the other Dogme films I've seen, is that I have a feeling that the four of us really tried our hardest to stick to the rules, I think that gave some kind of energy to them. I think there are many people who hate Dogme and it doesn't matter, it's freedom for everybody. But there is just one thing, if you don't count me because it's very hard to talk about oneself, but if you talk about the first three films, it's still three interesting films and that's a pretty good hit rate. Even my film, it got into festivals, so it's a pretty good hit rate. There must be something right somewhere.

For me, personally, the great thing is that you have gone back to people. This for me is perhaps the strongest Dogme film because the performances throughout are extremely strong. Were you really pushing your actors?
I think the whole thing about trust, and I think the actors would say this better than I can, but I think being a director is so much - of course it's about writing scenes and about listening and pushing at the same time, but it is also about giving space. And you need to be quite confident in what you have in order to be able to give that space. This is very banal, but it's also about loving them. When you choose your actors - every director's different - in some way you have to love every one of them. What I did in this film is I re-shot a lot. I went on shooting every scene until I felt we had it. Some of the scenes were re-shot four times. Not all of them, sometimes we had it the first time, and sometimes I went on and said, 'Okay, we'll have to do this tomorrow'. In the beginning, the actors were quite afraid of that. But when they realised that this was just as good for them as it was for me, and also I was sometimes able to say, 'Okay, we have it, it's fine' they realised that. And they also realised that I was never angry at them. Just felt that they could do something better."

You were trying to get deeper inside them, closer to the emotions you wanted to touch in them?
Exactly. Some of the scenes we re-shot many times. Sometimes I changed the script. Because sometimes when you're doing a scene and you can't make it work, sometimes it can be because of you, sometimes it can be because of the actors, but sometimes it can be because of the scene. Sometimes there's no time to re-write the scene so what I did was I went back to my hotel and worked the night and re-wrote the scene or changed things. Sometimes it could just be changing the setting of a scene. There's a scene where you have these to characters, Paul and Amanda, and they have a big fight. She tells him to go. Originally I had set that scene in quite a big room so they were sitting at quite a distance. That was very good for her but it was very bad for him because he wanted to be close. But on the other hand it was also wrong to be in a small. So I put them in not a small room but a smaller room, and the scene just worked for both of them: there was distance and no distance.

Filming is also about permitting yourself. Because when you go to film school and learn all these things, they tell you, 'You should know what you want'. And of course you should know what you want in the big way - you know what kind of film you're doing. But you don't make a film; you find a film. You find it as you do it. You find the tone of it. And if you do that, you have to be open enough for other things to happen, but at the same time control.

So there has to be an intuitive element there, but it should not take over to the extent that it throws things into chaos.
I think so otherwise it becomes like a factory. When Hitchcock arrived in Hollywood, and although he was very much a part of that, it's an interesting comment, he said, 'They shouldn't be called film studios it should be called film factories, because that what they are'. I think he was right. He was very visionary.

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