INTERVIEW. Ever since "Happy Now" earned her the Premier Prix de la Cinéfondation at Cannes in 2004, Frederikke Aspöck, a graduate of NYU, has been feeling the pressure of expectation. The award came with a guarantee that her first feature would be shown in Cannes, and so it is that the Danish director is now debuting for the second time at the Cannes festival, this time with "Out of Bounds".
"The first thing they taught us in film school was, Don't work with animals or kids. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong," Frederikke Aspöck recalls. Still, it should come as no surprise that the director included a dog in her first feature "Out of Bounds", which is reflected in the Danish title Labrador. Aspöck seeks challenges and the mantra for her work is "courage".
She has been needing it.
"There is so much pressure on your first feature. It can define your career. Often, it's the film people look back on as crucial to an entire oevure. But even though it's so important, it seemed wrong to me to just go for the obvious and do the things I already knew how to."
THE US TAUGHT ME TO BE BOLD
Aspöck got the courage to plunge into sink-or-swim situations in the United States. She spent ten years in New York, where she trained as a director at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.
"The US taught me to be bold," she says. Her years in New York influenced her in other ways as well. "Americans are very good at complimenting and encouraging each other. So, a fertile community emerges where everyone is fighting for the same thing, and that's hugely important to the collective process of filmmaking. Besides, it comes naturally to me, because I'm deeply grateful for the work people do for me."
"It's important to be courageous in your work and not play it safely. That certainly goes for "Out of Bounds". In this film I leapt into something I'd never tried before. It's a chamber play with long scenes and very few characters, with the main focus on the acting. I never did that before." Happy Now" was almost wordless, while my other short film "Sheep" had a lot of dialogue and a lot of people in it. The task this time was to distil the dialogue between very few people."
ON A WIND-BLOWN ISLAND
"Out of Bounds" is a chamber play set in the open air. A young couple, Stella and Oskar, are visiting her father, Nathan, an artist who lives alone with his dog on a wind-blown Swedish island. When Stella reveals she's pregnant, the new information drives a wedge between the three characters, making their relationships even more precarious than before. Soon, the two men are at each other's throats, because they both think they know what's best for Stella.
The screenplay is by Daniel Dencik, with contributions by Aspöck. Her particular concern was weaving nature into the story almost like a separate character in itself.
"I love it when outside circumstances force inner change. Also, we use the wild, unforgiving landscape to illustrate the theme in "Out of Bounds" – that we humans are fragile, isolated and utterly alone in the world. There's no one we can trust. You may feel connected to a community or your boyfriend, friend or family, but you can't trust anyone 100 percent. The sweeping Swedish landscape helps drive that home."
It was Aspöck's strategy of challenging herself that compelled her to do a film with such a bleak worldview. The feeling of isolation she saw in Antonioni's "L'Avventura" inspired her, though she never personally subscribed to the notion that we are alone in the world.
"I'm familiar with the ideology, but it doesn't belong to me. But I decided I could do a film that presented a worldview that's not my own. In fact, in the process what happened was I found myself thinking, 'It's true, we are alone!' But I find that to be such a cynical view of humanity and it runs against everything I am. I'm a really optimistic, positive and idealistic person. I always made a point of insisting that humans aren't alone. I believe in love and community. But can we ever really trust anyone? That's true for the big questions, like 'Can you trust your partner not to cheat on you?' But it's also true anytime you're crossing the street at a green light. Will the car that's approaching you stop? That's a question of trust. The same is true for a conductor conducting a large orchestra. Will they all set in or will one of them run a saw across the strings?"
"Out of Bounds". Photo: Nordisk Film
Aspöck is fascinated by miscommunications between people. In "Happy Now", "Sheep" and "Out of Bounds" the characters all have trouble communicating with each other. They live fairly normal lives, but Aspöck comes in and shows us that the characters are all really confused about what's expected of them. Perhaps that's why they can sometimes seem a bit wishy-washy.
"I love characters with flaws, when you can't tell who's the hero and who's the villain. I'm very interested in people's weaknesses and the comedy inherent therein. I love human absurdities, when people look silly or goofy. I'm not so much into slickness or perfection. I never aim for that. I once did a commercial where the set designer tried to get a handle on my intentions by going, "Okay, so you want it ugly in the cool way?" But no, never in the cool way! Everyone has flaws and I find that charming. I want to bring that out."
Does that mean you like flawed films?
"Yes! That's why it's so cool to watch first and second features. I love it when you can spot the mistakes. The films are sometimes wildly sophomoric, and that's okay, too. One of my favourite films is Mike Nichols' 'The Graduate' where he's messing around with zooms, the sound is sometimes way out there and he is playing around with all these crude effects. But it works, because it's super fresh. You can tell the guy has leapt into the abyss, but his courage holds him up. His enthuasism for the film provides the uplift."
RUNNING IN CANNES
Clearly, Aspöck loves filmmaking. Her New York friends had an expression for the times when she would disappear from the outside world and enter the world of cinema. "Freddie Friday" they called it when Frederikke (Freddie) began and ended her Fridays at the movies.
"I pulled out the plug, went to the movies and watched four or five films in a row," she says.
Aspöck caught the movie bug early and first went to Cannes to watch movies at age 20 – when she could get away from her job as a runner at the Scandinavian stand. The festival is close to her heart and not just because of the history.
"Cannes has a tradition of picking experimental and brave films that push the limits – the same kind of films that fascinate me. So, of course it fills me with joy, pride and gratitude to get to show my debut feature at Cannes."
"Out of Bounds" is produced with support from the talent fund New Danish Screen.