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ClermontFF2019 Thomas Elley, director of Bølger [Open Spaces]
Sunday 17 February 2019, by
Interview with Thomas Elley, director of the cryptic and unsettling Bølger [Open Spaces] in the international competition.
I assume Open Spaces [the English title] refers to the filming location. Can you tell us a bit more about this place and its community?
Yes, it does. The fun thing is that the original title of the film is “Bølger” which is Danish for “waves”. And I hated that title in English, so I went on this big hunt for a new one. Finally, I settled on Open Spaces, which I felt could convey the idea of enormous sand banks and plains on the island, Rømø. The titles also counters the central theme of the film; the closed spaces that the characters are in. They have a secret that this very tightly knit community can’t know. It’s very claustrophobic, both visually in the scenes but also in the story – far from open spaces. Rømø is a curious story. Almost two million tourists go there every year but only around 600 people live there permanently. So it’s like a ghost island during the off-season. The local school has closed so the demographics are shrinking. It’s one of those places where nature dictates everything. The ebb and flow has controlled the island since it was first populated. The constant wind make it a very restless place.
Why did you choose to explore a relationship with an age gap unfolding in such a setting?
I think I’ve always been attracted to those small but tight communities. My mother is from the Faroe Islands which is like Rømø times a thousand. I grew up in a relatively small town. Something happens with these communities. When you know everyone, when everyone is like family, you can also become blind to people’s weaknesses. Sometimes you look the other way and sometimes you sweep things under the carpet. It happens inside families and it happens inside these communities as well.
Can you tell us a bit more about the casting process?
Well, I had two people in mind for the main characters and those are the ones that we got for the film. Charlotte Munck, who plays Freja, is well known in Denmark. She was very popular in a cop show in Denmark some years ago and everyone knows her. She is tall and has some serious authority. She brings a larger-than-life, almost theatre-like presence. And few actors in Denmark are better with authentic dialogue and improvisation than her. Same goes for Oscar Dyekjær Giese, who plays Albert. Probably one of the biggest young talents in Denmark. He just has that natural approach to language. I loved that initially, but was astounded to find his nonverbal acting to be just as powerful. He doesn’t talk a lot in this film, he lurks around in the background until he’s suddenly launched, reluctantly, to the centre of the stage. He’s also huge. It’s like he’s physically too big to fit in the house which I love.
What other subject matter are you keen to explore in the future?
I’m working on a film about will. Sounds extremely pretentious, but that’s kind of all I know. It’s going to be extremely bleak and even more rigorous than Open Spaces.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
It makes the process more free than feature films, I think. At some point, you might have funding from a party that demands a financial return. When that happens you may have to alter the artistic vision of the crew. I dread the day when compromises are demanded – not suggested – from someone who isn’t making the film. Short film remains both the arena of the experimentalist and the student.