Potential Is What Counts

Birger Larsen was immediately drawn to the story of the two brothers Anton and Buller, and the technical challenge it implied, when he heard the idea for "Super Brother" one day when he picked up the phone. At the other end of the line was the screenwriter and producer Åke Sandgren, describing his story.

SuperBror_04_450

Anton and Buller (played by Lucas Odin Clorius and Victor Kruse Palshøj) watch as powerful forces are unleashed in "Super Brother". Photo: Erik Aavatsmark

Anton, 10, is saddled with way too much responsibility for his family's wellbeing and especially for his older brother, Buller, who has autism. Anton secretly dreams of having a different kind of brother, a strong, assertive brother who could help him stand up to the bullies at school and in general just make life more of a party.

Super Brother has raised some eyebrows for taking up a subject like autism. In a time, when so many children's films mainly want to entertain with hijinks and thrills, "Super Brother" stands out as a film that has something on its mind.

Buller, too, is unhappy about their situation and reacts by fantasising himself into distant galaxies. And he might actually be onto something! One day a mysterious meteor crashes near their house. The meteor turns out to hold unknown powers, and life suddenly takes a radical turn for the two boys and the world around them.

Genre hybrid

As the plot summary implies, "Super Brother" mixes up realism, adventure and science fiction. The opportunities in the screenplay for playing around with different genres was definitely fun, Larsen says, "We set out to operate in the intersection between Ken Loach's Kess and Kubrick's and Spielberg's science fiction films. To visualise that, we located the boys' house near an airport runway. The planes roaring over the house mirror the trains that always used to pass right by someone's house or apartment in an old social-realist film. Yet, having a runway literally in your backyard is not particularly realistic, so we immediately establish a universe that looks like it might exist but still belongs to the world of cinema."

"Social realism is enormously important to this film," Larsen says. "Because of this element of social realism, the meteor landing seems not so much magic as real. The meteor exists right there, in the kids' dreary and not very fun everyday life. We specifically did not want to make a kind of Harry Potter world where a miracle waits around every corner. Life is not like that for Anton and Buller – these kids are really fighting an uphill battle."

Super Brother photo Erik Aavatsmark
Super Brother. Photo: Erik Aavatsmark

Respect for diversity

Super Brother has raised some eyebrows for taking up a subject like autism. In a time, when so many children's films mainly want to entertain with hijinks and thrills, "Super Brother" stands out as a film that has something on its mind.

"I thought it was high time to come out with something meaningful," Larsen says, mentioning some Danish children's and teen films that successfully combine entertainment with a shot of vitamins, among them "Gummi-Tarzan", "Buster's World", "Miracle", "Karla's World" and "Fighter", as well as two Swedish films, "Let the Right One In" and "Flickan" and from the US, "E.T.", and "Up"."

"I want to tell a story the whole family can get together and talk about afterwards," Larsen says. As mentioned, the theme of two brothers immediately hooked him. "My older brother and I are semi-twins
– that is, we're almost the same age – and we fought a lot, but we also had a lot fun together. My own boys are nine and 13, and I thought this was a story I would like to give my kids, to say, You may fight and hate each other, but don't make it more serious than it is. Respect each other as siblings and be friends and help each other out. It's okay to argue – but be constructive about it. The way I see it, "Super Brother" is not so much about disorders or impairment as about differences – about respecting each other's differences and seeing the potential in each other."

Another central point of the film is how the boy's mother lays way too much responsibility on Anton, Larsen says.

"You can defend the mother in "Super Brother" by saying she is in a really tough situation. But, we're all in tough situations one way or another. Maybe Mother is upset about something, but that doesn't mean the kids should put up with it. She has no right to expect her youngest son to help out so much with his big brother. She shouldn't expect the kid brother to step in and be the man in the family. A child isn't your partner. The adult should lead the way and bear the responsibility of parenting. Anything else is just excuses."

Working with kids

The director is acutely aware of bearing the responsibility for his young actors. His two leads are very convincingly played by first-time actors Lucas Clorius and Victor Kruse Palshøj, 11 and 14. As Larsen sees it, the big difference between working with kids and grownups is in the casting.

"I spend a huge amount of time selecting the children. It's a tough process. If we start principal photography and the kids don't feel they can deliver what's asked of them – plus a bit more – they will be enormously sorry and feel they're not living up to what they should be living up to. So before we get to that point, we do a ton of rehearsals where they have to be present the whole day and act with other people, including grownup actors. We have to see if the kids can take a break without forgetting their lines – or, when they think they've forgotten their lines, if they can go back and remember them again. What happens if they suddenly have to do something differently from before? Do they have the discipline it takes? If not, they will feel really lousy once we start the actual shooting."

"Also, I'm very attentive to their parent situation," Larsen says. "Are the parents divorced or not? We need parents who will back the child up. It's not just the child who's going to work, it's the whole family. Sometimes the kids will have done a scene that's really tough, maybe they had to cry. Then I contact the parents and tell them what happened, that there might be reaction, so they can talk about it. And they can call me anytime."

"What child actors are thrown into is so unique, especially once the film opens. Suddenly they are famous, everyone recognises them – and then, just as suddenly, they're not famous anymore. Very few kids can handle that rollercoaster ride. I help as much as I can, both the kids and their parents, with the experience I have from directing other children's films and having been a child actor myself. The rollercoaster ride is just something you have to go through. There are fun things and bad things about it – hopefully, more fun things than bad. But there comes a time when most of the fun is over. Then there's a new film out with new kids who become famous. So, throughout the whole process, from casting to long after the film opens, it's enormously important that the kids get the support they need from the grownups in their lives."

Factbox

Birger_Larsen_SH_SuperBror

Birger Larsen

Born 1961, Denmark. Director and screenwriter. Made his feature film debut with the successful and critically acclaimed "Dance of the Polar Bears" (1990), winner UNICEF Special Mention at Berlinale's Generation in 1991. "The Big Dipper" (1992), Larsen's second feature film. Oscar nominee for the short fiction "Sweathearts" (1996). Contributed episodes to TV-series, including the Emmy Awarded "Nikolaj & Julie" (2003). Fourth feature film "Super Brother" (2009), selected for Berlinale's Generation Kplus.

Nordisk Film

Founded 1906. Produced high quality films for a worldwide market during the silent era. Today part of the Egmont media group. Co-owner of A.Film and from 2008 co-owner of Zentropa. Producers of the popular "Olsen Gang"-series (1960-to present day) and Oscar winner "Babette's Feast" (Gabriel Axel, 1987). Their catalogue from 2000 onwards embraces works by Nils Malmros, Paprika steen, Christoffer Boe, Jacob Thuesen, Asger Leth, Niels Arden Oplev and Birger Larsen whose "Super Brother" (2009) is selected for Berlinale's Generation. Releases 2010: "Karla and Jonas" (Charlotte Sachs Bostrup), "Therapy" (Kenneth Kainz), "Olsen Gang Gets Polished" (Jørgen Lerdam) and "R" (Michael Noer & Tobias Lindholm), the latter selected for Rotterdam and Göteborg 2010. About these films, see the catalogue in reverse section. More about Nordisk Film at www. nordiskfilm.com

Danish Children & Youth Films / Berlinale Generation

Rubber Tarzan Photo Jan Johansen
Ivan (Alex Svanbjerg), the anti-hero of "Rubber Tarzan". Photo: Jan Johansen

Audiences and juries of Berlinale's Generation have had a keen eye for Danish films for children and young people over the decades. Here are the Danish winners:

2009 "Max Embarrassing", Lotte svendsen
2007 "Having a Brother", Esben Toft Jacobsen (short film)
2006 "We Shall Overcome", Niels Arden Oplev
2003 "The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear", Jannik hastrup
2003 "Wallah Be", Pia Bovin
2002 "Send More Candy", Cæcilia Holbek Trier
2002 "Catch That Girl", Hans Fabian Wullenweber
2000 "Going Back Home", Michael W. Horsten (short film)
1999 "Teis & Nico", Henrik Ruben Genz (short film)
1998 "Hands Up!", Morten Henriksen (short film)
1996 "The Flyer", Aage Rais
1992 "The Hideaway", Nils Gråbøl
1991 "Dance of the Polar Bears", Birger Larsen
1990 "Me and Mama Mia", Erik Clausen
1990 "A World of Difference", Leif Magnusson
1989 "Shower of Gold", Søren Kragh-Jacobsen
1985 "The World of Buster", Bille August
1984 "The Boy Who Disappeared", Ebbe Nyvold
1981 "Rubber Tarzan", Søren Kragh-Jacobsen

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