The Joys of Retelling

Who really directed Christoffer Boe's fourth feature "Everything Will Be Fine", screening in Directors' Fortnight in Cannes? It took more than one take as Lasse Kyed Rasmussen, Boe's PA on the shoot a year back, met with the director and his lead actor Jens Albinus to try and find out.

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ROUGH CUTS. A film set is a battlefield of sorts. Luckily it rarely amounts to more than the occasional cut to the forehead. Boe and Albinus on the set of "Everything Will Be Fine". Photo by Max Stirner

TAKE #1
One afternoon in March I'm strolling through a sunny Copenhagen to meet Christoffer Boe and Jens Albinus for a talk about the meta-layers in "Everything Will Be Fine", convinced that I've come up with a sufficiently sophisticated angle to encapsulate the film's thematics and construction. But I'm nervous, too. Boe can be quite unapproachable.

In recent years, Boe has made his mark in the European film landscape as an elitist and contrary director, insistently crafting tales that play out in the space between human pain and literary construction. His new film, "Everything Will Be Fine", is full of big emotions and ingenious constructions, too. Jens Albinus stars as Jacob Falk, a director struggling to make his next feature come together but losing himself in a web of fiction, conspiracy and personal tragedy.

Considering the metafictional plot, it seems obvious, and not least extremely Boe-sian, to stage the interview as a conversation between the two directors, Boe and his creation Falk, reflecting the confusion about when Boe's film ends and Falk's film takes over. Who really directed "Everything Will Be Fine"?

Having settled on this angle, I confidently ring the doorbell to Boe's office, attractively located in a patrician apartment in central Copenhagen.

Life is a series of stories that we are constantly rewriting. Suddenly, the girl you gave your life to is the bitch who betrayed you and whom you never want to see again.

The False Ending

Twenty-four hours later the sun and my faith in my clever angle are both gone. Instead I'm left staring at a transcription of the interview that makes it painfully clear that Boe's laconic, laid-back answer to my cryptic question of who is behind the film has blown my premise out of the water:

"'Everything Will Be Fine' is directed by a team which calls itself Hr. Boe & Co. That's pretty obvious. Who else could it have been?”

Hr. Boe & Co is a team Boe has surrounded himself with since his film-school days. Together they are behind all four of his features, "Everything Will Be Fine" being the latest. Alas, I was angling for a dead-end story, and perhaps the article should end here.

Finding the Rigth Story

Yet, as I read the transcription looking for another story, I discover my resemblance to the director Jacob Falk. Falk, too, has a hard time finding the right story.

"Specifically, Falk does not know what story to tell. All he knows is that he'll be making a film about a war. But the great unanswered question for him is understanding why he has a need to tell that story," Boe says.

Then I stumble on Albinus' remark that, as "Everything Will Be Fine" develops, Falk "reconstructs his personal narrative, hoping it will be better than it actually  is", and it dawns on me that both this interview and the film itself revolve around the universal human desire and opportunity to write yourself into new and meaningful stories.

"We all tell stories about ourselves," Boe says. "We can't live life without writing ourselves into a story that gives us a sense of purpose and a goal in life. Life is a series of stories that we are constantly rewriting in a complex relation with our feelings – so that the stories both reflect and determine how we feel. Suddenly, the girl you gave your life to is the bitch who betrayed you and whom you never want to see again. Later on, she may be just someone you don't appreciate anymore or she may be the girl you ignored, forcing her to act the way she did. Rewriting the same story, you're always redefining yourself and the world around you."

These statements make it clear to me that, by the same simple move, I can rewrite my interview. This does not have to be the story of a sophomoric interviewer coming up short in his meeting with the Danish auteur. Just like that I can write Boe, Albinus and myself into the story of a far more cheerful and relaxed meeting.

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Staging the story. Jens albinus is Falk, a film director who accidently comes across some terrifying evidence but has a hard time making the pieces fit. Paprika Steen plays his journalist sister. Photo: Max Stirner

TAKE #2
One afternoon in late March I am strolling through a sunny Copenhagen to meet Christoffer Boe and Jens Albinus for a talk about the plot of "Everything Will Be Fine". Having time to spare, I pause to catch a few rays of the first spring sun.

I arrive at the office a few minutes early and Boe cuts short his lunch with his co-workers at Alphaville Pictures Copenhagen to ask me into one of the rooms housing the production company he founded with his producer, Tine Grew Pfeiffer.

Albinus hasn't showed up yet, so Boe offers me a cup of coffee from a French press coffeepot and we spend the waiting time swapping experiences about how to avoid invoking the curse of the French press – maladroit handling can summon a geyser of scalding brew from the glass cylinder. Together we manage to pour the coffee without incurring burns and, as I sip it, I realise that Boe actually is not an arrogant mystic but a good-natured, absent-minded filmmaker.

There is still some coffee left in the pot when Albinus joins us shortly after, and the interview can finally begin.

Still, even though I open this second version with a fairly innocuous yet central question, I again run into trouble. When I ask Boe to explain what "Everything Will Be Fine" is about, he can barely take the question seriously and responds with irony:

"That's way too big a question. We have to get to that by a roundabout way." I immediately regret my uninspired question, but luckily Albinus, who plays the director Falk, comes to my aid, articulating the film that his character is completing in "Everything Will Be Fine".

"Jacob Falk is doing a film about a war," he says. "That's simple enough. However, if you picture the road to the finished film as a stairway, Falk is only standing on the first step and the next step is missing. Falk then envisions all kinds of things that the next step might potentially be and at some point those visions become the actual film."

The Imperfect Film

"Everything Will Be Fine" lets us follow Falk's obsessive struggle to finish the script for his film. All Falk's efforts notwithstanding, Albinus is not convinced that Falk will ever finish his film project.

"He can't really get things to work, because he is carried away by a current that collapses the distance between him and his material. He loses any sense of distance between himself and his stories. And once that dividing wall vanishes, you're no longer telling stories, you've become psychotic. That's kind of what happens to Falk."

According to Albinus, Boe on the other hand manages to maintain the distance between himself and his material, which is why he was able to actually make "Everything Will Be Fine". Although Boe has no personal experience with the problems Falk is having, he can still diagnose the suffering filmmaker.

"Falk's problem is that his film  overshadows the life he is actually living," Boe says. “But at the same time, the film is an invaluable help for him in understanding his own life."

Running Man

The role of Jacob Falk was specifically written for Albinus. Though a year has passed since they shot the film, Albinus still has his character down pat.

"To boil Falk way down, he is a man who runs," he says. "Like the man on the exit signs, Falk is always running for a way out. But he is also a ‘man who errs', and in that way he is like everyone else. To err, after all, is the most human of all."

"It's a universal story precisely because of this, that we all make mistakes," Boe adds. "It's about what it takes to make us acknowledge our mistakes, to confront them and accept that the process is good for us. All my films have that naïve little story. They're always about someone who is forced to recognise his mistakes. This preoccupies me, because deep down I believe it's good to confront your mistakes, even if it is a painful thing to do."

Boe is getting warmed up after the opening exercises and suddenly decides to answer my banal opening question.

"So, 'Everything Will Be Fine' is about examining a person and that person's search to find himself and recognise his mistakes," he says.

I have my answer. There are no questions left on my pad. There is nothing more to discuss, and the amiable interview appears to be over before it really got going.

Boe would seem to agree. As he sees me out, he seems intent on making up for the initial misunderstandings, ensuring me that neither he nor his films are as mysterious as a lot of people think, "I really try to tell entertaining stories in entertaining ways. I'm not out to scare away audiences."

In light of this abrupt and intriguing send-off, it seems incomplete to end the article here. Taking Boe's advice to heart, I willingly admit that I probably was not adequately prepared that afternoon in March as I strolled through Copenhagen for the second time. Consequently, like Falk, I will seize the opportunity to retell my own story one more time and see if I can improve on it.

TAKE #3
One afternoon in March I'm strolling through a sunny Copenhagen to meet Christoffer Boe and Jens Albinus for a talk about the genre experiments in "Everything Will Be Fine", I'm relaxed though slightly anxious about how it will go, since I'm not an experienced interviewer.

No sooner have I taken a seat across from Albinus and a chain-smoking Boe, who has decorated his office to resemble a well-worn film set, than nerves rattle my peace of mind. Boe and Albinus are chatting easily like old friends running into each other in the university cafeteria after a long separation. It's hard to get a word in edgewise and I have to pay close attention, as they juggle terms like hypercomplexity and the Baroque ideals, while referring to Kafka, Dreyer and Luther like they were old acquaintances. Not that they're pretentious about it. Their joy in conversation more seems to express that life is full of topics a lot more pressing than their collaboration on "Everything Will Be Fine".

An Uninteresting War


Though it's tempting to let them go on, my mission, of course, is to get them to talk about their film. Delicately I butt in, asking Boe to describe how he got the idea for "Everything Will Be Fine", which deals in part with the Danish war effort in Afghanistan.

Boe picks up the cue without missing a beat and launches into a rambling monologue, interrupting himself only when he has to light another cigarette.

"When a small nation like Denmark is at war, there's a big story to tell," he says. "The only problem is that that story doesn't really interest me. Just as it doesn't interest most Danes. The fact is the war doesn't figure in people's consciousness. Not at the dinner table and not at the ballot box. Nor does it for me. I couldn't get the war to unfold in a way that made it seem important or relevant to me. I only had this idealistic faith that it was a story that had to be told."

That idealistic faith resulted in a fit of manic work, as Boe wrote 40 widely different scripts all based on the story of a returning soldier who knows something other people don't want to believe. However, "Everything Will Be Fine" only began to take shape once Boe set his sights on Albinus.

"It was all really unspecific in a lot of ways, because I didn't know what this film should be," he says. "The big redeeming moment came when I realised that I wanted Jens to play Falk. Then the film fell into place."

An Interesting Story

Though the film that emerged once Albinus came aboard may resemble a political thriller, it is neither a political film nor a thriller in the classic sense. "Everything Will Be Fine", as Boe sees it, is an attempt to merge the suspense of thrillers with the emotion of melodrama.

"My intention was always to get a thriller going, which creates certain expectations that are then continually deconstructed. We do that by allowing the film to stop and say, ‘This thriller is only interesting in light of the melodramatic tale of two people failing at love'," he says.

The coffee is finished. The smoke in the cramped office is so thick it's hard to breathe, and both the interview and my lungpower are winding down. But Boe has more to add:

"A thriller is basically the story of a paranoid person who loses his faith in and his control of his daily life. Something has shifted and suddenly the story he was has stopped making sense and he is desperately looking for a truth that can form the basis of a new story, so his life can make sense again. That's a good story in its own right and the principal theme of 'Everything Will Be Fine'."

Following this characterisation of the interplay of genre and theme, I get up, discreetly coughing to signal the end of the interview. Not losing a beat, Boe returns to his lofty conversation with Albinus, as I withdraw from the smokechoked room.

The Sun is Always Shining

That afternoon in late March, as I leave Boe's office, I still don't realise that my attempt to rig the interview to make it look like a conversation between Boe and Falk was no less desperate than Falk's destructive search for a story.

Blinded by my comforting ignorance, I put on my shades and walk home, never noticing that the sky has turned overcast.

Twenty-four hours later my comforting ignorance has evaporated, and only the odour of heavy cigarette smoke is still clinging to my clothes. Reading the transcription, I realise that, of course, "Everything Will Be Fine" is directed by Christoffer Boe, but who he really is, a lot less obvious. Then I come across something he told me that explains the trouble I was having communicating the story: “First you have to find out how you want to tell your story. What's it going to be about and how do you tell it?" "At that moment I realize that it was the answers to precisely these questions that I hadn't properly thought through that afternoon in late March as I strolled through a sunny Copenhagen to meet Christoffer Boe and Jens Albinus.

Lasse Kyed Rasmussen was a personal assistant to Christoffer Boe on "Everything Will Be Fine" and is currently in the screenwriting programme at the National Film School.  
 

Facts

Christoffer Boe

Born 1974, Denmark. Graduated in Film and Media, 1996, and in direction at the National Film School of Denmark, 2001. His feature film debut "Reconstruction" (2003) received the Camera d'Or and the Critics' Week Youth Jury Award in Cannes. Recipient of FIPR ESCI's Director of the Year in 2003. Second feature "Allegro" (2005) was chosen for Venice Days and Toronto, and won the Prix du Jury Jeunes. "Offscreen" (2006) won the Fantastic Jury Award in Austin and the Altre Visioni Award in Venice. "Everything Will Be Fine", released January in Danish cinemas and selected for Directors' Fortnight in Cannes, is Boe's fourth feature film. Currently in production is "Beast".

Alphavile Pictures Copenhagen

Founded 2003 by director Christoffer Boe and producer Tine Grew Pfeiffer. Prior to this they produced their first feature "Reconstruction" (2003, Nordisk Film), winner of Cannes' Camera d'Or. First films were "Allegro" (Christoffer Boe, 2005) and the experimental "Offscreen" (2006). Titles 2009-2010: the documentary "Out of Love" by Birgitte Stærmose, honoured with a Special Mention in Berlin and the Prix EFA in Rotterdam, and Christoffer Boe's fourth feature film "Everything Will be Fine", selected for Cannes' Directors' Fortnight. www.alphavillepicturescopenhagen.com

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