A sober glance at the social games that take place in the night life reveals steamy intentions, which lead to all sorts of crazy and embarrassing situation comedy.
How the sexes beat around the bush in the Norwegian night life is the pivotal point in Mariken Halle’s short film No Sex Just Understand. The film is based on the director’s own experiences.
Halle graduated from The School of Film directing in Gothenburg in 2010 with the film Maybe Tomorrow. With her permanent collaborators, Clara Bodén and Ronja Svenning Berge, Halle has started the production company Vapen och Dramatik that not only focuses on film, but also books and other art forms.
No Sex Just Understand is available on the DVD Funny Films of the North, which Ekko has produced in cooperation with three other Nordic film magazines.
- Mariken Halle, how did you come up with the idea for No Sex Just Understand, and under what circumstances did it come into being?
- Some years ago, I was in the same situation as the woman in the film. I was in a bar with a group of theater people and we ended up talking to two men the whole night. The older one had a fascinating language, he jumped from one thing to the other and I asked him if it was all right, if I wrote down what he said. He was fine with it, the younger one found it problematic. He just wanted to bring me home. After that night I felt that this situation exactly as it was would make a fantastic film or play.
- In Gothenburg I got to know Ylva Gallon, who plays the woman and together with her and actor Rasmus Lindgren we made three short films at the same bar, so the film is actually part of a trilogy.
- What were your intentions with No Sex Just Understand?
- I wanted to show how human beings can have so many intentions and things they want with each other. To recreate a language just as vulnerable and unexpected as it was in the real situation and to leave the audience with three people they can have a hard time to decide whether they like or not.
- Were the actors actually drunk in the film or are they just acting very well?
- No, they were not drunk. They are just very brave actors who open themselves up and let us take part of their associations, like drunk people tend to do. Very much of the dialogue is improvised. We had the script for understanding the situation, the characters and the rhythm but I put it away if I felt the construction too much. Instead I would construct the scenes on the spot giving the actors circumstances and guidelines a long the way.
MORE LIKE A FILM
- Are you inspired by any specific artists or works?
- I’m very inspired by John Cassavetes. His way of making films, his language and his love for the characters. Other sources of inspiration are Bo Widerberg, Anja Breien, Roy Andersson, Lars von Trier, Ruben Östlund, Margreth Olin, Werner Herzog and Agnés Varda because of their consequence, courage and playfulness.
- What was the greatest challenge about making No Sex Just Understand, artistically as well as practically?
- The greatest challenge was in the script process. I felt I had to explain the relationships between the people at the bar and make the situation more dramatic. At one point I had a script in which the woman goes to Thailand the next day to work as a volunteer and ends up going home with the younger man for money. I felt I had to make it “more like a film”. But when I started at the Filmschool of Gothenburg I saw the work of former students, such as Fijona Junozi and Lisa Cornwall, who had made films without explaining any relationships, just jumping right into the situations.
- In what way are you using humor in No Sex Just Understand?
- For me humor and seriousness is very close connected. I have to have something very serious to make it funny. The things in life I find most interesting and want to make films about very often have a combination of humor and seriousness in them. When I experienced the situation that No Sex Just Understand is based on, I was in a state where I laughed a lot, but I also felt sad, provoked and guilty at the same time. That was the feelings I wanted to recreate.
THE HEART IN THE MAILBOX
- What can one achieve with comedy that the tragedy is not capable of?
- It’s hard to use the words ‘comedy’ or ‘tragedy’, because my favorite films usually fit into both categories. For me, it has a lot to do with precision. If the filmmaker has really done an effort to observe details in human behavior or in life, then it gets funny. I once made a humorous film about asylum seekers from Ethiopia, who cannot return home, called Trygve With His Heart in the Mailbox. In that film I made a very specific choice about the form. I wanted to let the actors in the film expose other sides of themselves than the ‘sad refugee’.
- That film is a good example of how you can use comedy as something unexpected to get a very serious message through, when people have gotten so used to the serious words that don’t have an effect anymore. However, I don’t know if comedy has an effect either. Ermias, who played the main character, is in the exact same situation now as he was when we made the film seven years ago. He lived in a tent outside the Oslo cathedral until recently when the police took away his tent.
- Do you think that there exists a particular Nordic humour?
- No. Humour is very international. I think the reason that some countries seem to have a special kind of humour comes from trends and filmmakers copying each others’ styles rather than from an existence of a particular Nordic humour.
- What reactions do you wish to provoke in the audience with No Sex Just Understand?
- Recently, I showed the film to a group of summer school students from all over the world at the University of Oslo. After the screening, many people asked me if this was a normal situation, a young woman behaving like that in the company of two men. Two students got into a big discussion about equality of the sexes.
- That’s the kind of reactions I think are very interesting, reactions I hadn’t predicted. To a person from another part of the world this film means something different from what it means to me. That’s why I think a filmmaker should be as precise and honest as she can, but not necessarily insist on having a theme or a sentence that describes it all. Let it be up to the audience to discover the meaning for themselves.
TWO NIGHTS AND 5.000 KRONER
- How do you regard the result?
- I’m very happy with the result. We managed to capture the underlying feeling I had when I experienced the situation. And the actors brought in new elements that made it richer. The film is made in a simple way: Two nights in a bar and the budget was only 5.000 SEK.
- What has No Sex Just Understand meant for you personally?
- What strikes me as the most important thing is how many future and important collaborators I met through this film. I have continued to work with all of the actors playing the main characters, and Clara Bodén and I used a lot of the things we experienced in our graduation project, Maybe Tomorrow the following year. The same camera and the same ways of working with dialogue for instance.
- What projects are you currently working on?
- This summer we’ve been developing and shooting a feature film about three Swedish waitresses in Oslo. They are played by three actors, who just graduated from the acting school of Gothenburg. They started their own acting group during their time in school, and I have followed them and seen all their work, which is really brave and funny. The film is called The World is Waiting and deals a lot with trying to create a platform where you can do whatever you want. We are also working on a project called Apartment + Car + Everything I Have and Own, where Clara Bodén tries to figure out if she is ‘more than Jämtland’ or not.
ELEVEN YEARS OLD AND LAZY
- What do you think of the current state of Norwegian film?
- Norwegian film has some very talented directors who make great films like Joachim Trier and Margreth Olin. But I think we have many talented film makers who make films that are more ‘the idea of how a film should be’ than a real film. I get sad, when I see a big production where the only goal, seemingly, is to sell tickets.
- For instance, I saw a Varg Veum film and the script reminded me of things you write when you’re eleven years old and lazy. I find it very sad that a lot of talented people are put to work on these productions and that these kind of films get support from the Norwegian Film Institute.
- I believe it’s the producers’ responsibility to guarantee that the people working in the film business are put to work on ambitious projects that want something with the audience other than to take their money. That’s why I think we have to discuss the responsibility of the producer much more than we do today when it comes to the artistic quality of the films. Then I think the most fantastic things can happen in Norwegian cinema.
By Mads Suldrup and Thomas S. Sejersen / Filmmagasinet Ekko