Mothers & Daughters

Dependence on another person can be a disease, Heidi Maria Faisst says. The Danish director’s feature film debut "The Blessing" is a drama about a young mother who has a hard time breaking away from her own mother. The film had a headstart in 2009, being selected for the festivals in both Göteborg and Rotterdam.

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Two mothers struggling to reach out and reconnect - the strained relationship between mother and daughter is a recurring theme in director Heidi Maria Faisst's films

Heidi Maria Faisst once described her films as “closed little bastards.” She laughs loudly when I ask her to explain what she meant. “It wasn’t actually intended as self-criticism,” she says. “What I mean is, I know my films can be hard to watch. Maybe I’m the closed little bastard. Though I don’t look it.

"I figured it was really all about me being scared shitless about having a child come out of me and feeling no love for it. Thematically, that's where it all began."

“My films are very thematic and not particularly plot-driven,” she adds. “There’s no facile story you can just jump onto and then find a tough theme underneath. Every scene is about the theme, not the plot. That’s what I’m trying for, anyway. It’s all I’m interested in. I’m not really good at making up plots.”

THE FEAR OF HAVING A CHILD

Faisst is making her feature film debut this year with "The Blessing", a drama about the young woman Katrine (Lærke Winther), who falls into postpartum depression after giving birth to her first child. When her boyfriend has to go away for a few days, Katrine turns to her mother, even though their relationship is clearly strained.

“I usually start with something I’m working through myself, if not in my physical life, then somewhere in my mind or my gut,” Faisst says. “Around the time I was conceiving "The Blessing",
I was thinking a lot about why I hadn’t had any children. I’m 36, but it was never anything I wanted to do. I figured it was really all about me being scared shitless about having a child come out of me and feeling no love for it. Thematically, that’s where it all began,” she says. “What’s that all about, fearing an inability to love? I started digging further into that. It’s about the fear of being wrong, not being like everybody else, not being able to live up to all the expectations of you as a mother. Out of that came the idea to do a film about the fear of having a child.”

WRITE FIRST, RESEARCH LATER

Writing the film, Faisst discovered that a lot of women experience postpartum depression. “It may be only for the first two weeks, but these women were thinking, ‘Get me out of here!’ I was really surprised. More than half the women I spoke with told me that’s how they felt. It was pretty wild.”

Still, Faisst prefers to do her research after she has written her story. “Then I go out and check how much of what I’ve written is true. I’m not into researching first and then writing a story. That feels constricting. It’s super nice to think I know a thing or two about emotions and then go out and check them. What’s not true, I change.

”Once she has found a theme she wants to explore, she has to do a few things she enjoys less: creating a framework and writing a story to put her theme into.

“In the beginning, Katrine’s mother wasn’t even in the film,” Faisst says. “I had a woman and a girl, who helps Katrine with the baby. Katrine gets insanely jealous that the girl is connecting with the baby more than she is. The problem was I couldn’t write it. Then, when I replaced the girl with Katrine’s mother, the script practically wrote itself. I have a thing with mothers and daughters. I get a lot of material there. A lot of those scenes come to me, and if I try to avoid them, I go a bit flat.”

DEPENDENCY IS A DISEASE

Several of Faisst’s shorts, notably "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (2006) and "Frederikke" (2007), also deal with difficult relationships between mothers and daughters.

“They are stories about holding on to something that isn’t good for you anymore,” she says. “That interests me. One day maybe, I’ll figure out how to do a regular love story about a man and a woman, but right now, that just isn’t very productive for me. Dependent relationships between parents and children are more fatal. Whether you like it or not – even if you’ve done everything to drive your parents away and you hate them – if you’re angry with your parents, you’re just as dependent on them as if you had them nearby.

“That’s become my view of the world. I see all our problems as coming from our background and our family relationships. Sometimes it’s sibling relationships,” the director says.

Faisst generally considers dependency an interesting subject. “Anything about alcoholism and drugs. It’s a disease. Being dependent on another person can become a disease, too. Why do we sometimes lose ourselves completely because we want love or attention or recognition? It’s enormously human, exciting and sad. I wish that everyone could be free of those dependencies. So much is bound up in them,” she says.

LIFE CAN BE PRETTY TRAGICOMIC

Just don’t confuse the personal with the autobiographical, Faisst stresses. “It gets awful sometimes. I have to tell my mother, ‘No, it’s not you.’ And she’s all like, ‘Oh no, your next film’s about that too? I can’t stand it!’ She, too, has given a lot of thought to why I make the films I do. I’m sure she recognises things in them. My characters are a big mix of all kinds of families, and I’m the only one who knows where the details come from.”

At times, it can be hard to navigate the dark, dramatic worlds of her films, the director says. Because she writes her own scripts, it’s important to have good people around to read them and make suggestions.

“It’s hard, but I also have a lot of fun. Meta (Louise Foldager, Faisst’s regular producer, ed.) and I laugh a lot when we make these films, because we both think our own lives are pretty tragicomic, when we mess everything up and can’t figure out a thing. If you ask me, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" is pretty funny. "The Blessing" is probably less funny,” Faisst says.

"The Blessing", like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", is produced with support from the New Danish Screen talent development fund. Though the budget was fairly low, Faisst never felt squeezed. “I don’t think I ever came up with an idea for something so big that it would need a lot of locations and equipment,” she says. “I always come up with intimate, psychological stories. My ideas tend to be small, closed worlds. That way I’m a good fit for New Danish Screen. If I have a limited budget, I prefer to write a story that fits. Why get stressed about what I can’t get to film? That’s just a waste of time”.

Heidi Maria Faisst foto Jan BuusDirector Heidi Maria Faisst (photo: Jan Buus)

Facts

HEIDI MARIA FAISST
Born 1972, Denmark. Graduate in direction at the National Film School of Denmark, 2003. The Pact, her graduation film, was selected for Cinéfondation, Cannes. Wrote and directed the short films "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (2006), winner of Best Short Fiction at the Danish Robert Awards, and "Frederikke" (2008). Faisst also wrote the screenplay for her feature film debut "The Blessing" (2008), produced by Zentropa.

ZENTROPA
Founded 1992 by director Lars von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen. From 2008 co-owned with Nordisk Film. Zentropa is one of the largest production companies in Scandinavia, having established a platform for young filmmakers and veteran directors alike. Covers feature film production as well as a range of services within DVD manufacture and digital communications. Zentropa is greatly acknowledged for having reinvigorated the industry with Dogme 95. International breakthrough came with Lars von Trier’s "Breaking the Waves" (1996) and continued with Lone Scherfig’s Berlin winner "Italian for Beginners" (2000), one of Zentropa’s greatest successes with a record-breaking number of admissions. Has launched several films by Oscar nominee Susanne Bier, Per Fly and Annette K. Olesen, and is co-producer of Thomas Vinterberg’s English-language features. Took home the Crystal Bear in 2006 for "We Shall Overcome" by Niels Arden Oplev. Awaiting release in 2009: Lars von Trier’s "Antichrist", Manyar I. Parwani’s "When Heaven Falls" and Morten Giese’s "Daniel" (working title).

NEW DANISH SCREEN
A subsidy scheme for promoting and inspiring the development of film language and storytelling in Danish cinema, securing its dynamics and diversity. Offering artistic free space for innovation and experimentation, New Danish Screen aims to ensure that new generations of filmmakers do not revert to conventional, handed-down expressions, but constantly strive to push the limits and create new experiences for audiences. New Danish Screen is an opportunity both for emerging talent on the professional level and more experienced filmmakers to develop, try out new ideas or switch tracks in relation to past productions. Support is directed at fiction films and documentaries, and, from 2008, the development of computer games. Jointly operated by the Danish Film Institute and the national broadcasters DR and TV 2. Several films supported by New Danish Screen have reached international acclaim, among these "A Soap" (Pernille Fischer Christensen, 2006), which won the Silver Bear and Best First Feature Award in Berlin; "Go With Peace Jamil" (Omar Shargawi, 2008), winner of the VPR O Tiger Award in Rotterdam; and the Oscar nominated short fictions "At Night" (Christian E. Christiansen, 2007) and "The Pig" (Dorte W. Høgh, 2008).

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