INTERVIEW. Is it okay to portray love as a young girl who doesn 't talk and loves sex? This was one of the questions director Katrine Wiedemann and writer Kim Fupz Aakeson grappled with as they worked on "A Caretaker's Tale", the offbeat, darkly funny story of a world-weary, misanthropic superintendent whose life is transformed when he meets a very young and very lusty woman.
"It 's a love story, boy meets girl, " the screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson says wryly about his new film, "A Caretaker's Tale".
"A Caretaker's Tale is the story of a real bastard who is healed when he meets love." Kim Fupz Aakeson, writer
"What makes us go beyond ourselves and do what we otherwise wouldn 't do? Only love can do that. "A Caretaker's Tale" is the story of a real bastard who is healed when he meets love. Love has to take a form that makes him open up – we 're talking about a Trojan horse here! And that just happens to be a girl who knows how to shut up and likes to have sex. "
"It 's a provocative premise, of course, that she has no voice and is so young, " Katrine Wiedemann says. "A Caretaker's Tale" is her second feature as a director.
"She is a different kind of saving angel. The provocation was a challenge in terms of how to unfurl the story. "
His soft underbelly
"A Caretaker's Tale" centres on Per (Lars Mikkelsen), a hateful superintendent in a bleak housing project who is rapidly sliding into middle age. His wife just left him, he drinks too much, his back and neck hurt and he basically doesn 't care much for life or the world around him. Then one day he discovers a very young, naked woman (Julie Zangenberg) in one of the flats he oversees. She can 't talk or walk, but she will have sex with Per. And so his transformation begins.
His ailments miraculously disappear as he falls for the girl and her spontaneous, light and lusty nature, and he becomes a happier, more positive person. But things soon go wrong for the odd couple. Per starts lending the girl out to his friends and he is soon overrun by people in the neighbourhood who want their ills cured, too.
The story is poignant, wildly different and not without a healthy dose of offbeat, pitch-black humour.
"The premise of the story is that this girl comes into his life and slowly breaks down his armour, which puts him in touch with his soft underbelly and also makes him vulnerable, " Fupz Aakeson says.
"Now people can get to him. Love is this powerful thing that also makes you vulnerable, defenceless.
You surrender to love. Keeping your guard up, you no doubt avoid a lot of rejection. But then again, you 're missing out on so much. "
A mysterious creature
But, portraying love as an unspeaking young girl who loves sex, is that even okay? The director and the writer grappled with this question as they worked on the story and the film.
"We debated whether she should develop into a whole person, " Wiedemann says. "Whether she was this kind of weird Kasper Hauser-like natural phenomenon that becomes a person. But it felt right to keep her as a creature that only reflects Per, which was also Fupz 's basic idea. The growth is his alone, not hers. It took some time to figure out how to hold on to the provocative premise and not betray the mystery of it. The basic mystery could never really be completely unravelled. That 's the film 's greatest strength and it 's what I fell for in the screenplay. It asks questions that I can hardly put into words, but I can feel that it touches on a truth. "
Fupz Aakeson says he simply got the idea one day and decided to explore it in a screenplay without knowing where it would take him. Sometimes it 's obvious what you are dealing with as a writer. Then there are the times when you have to accept that it 's not immediately clear to you what 's going on.
The quality of chaos
Heart in throat, Wiedemann started shooting "A Caretaker's Tale" without knowing how the film would end.
"We had to see what would happen to the material during the shooting to get a sense of what was the right thing to do, " she says. "It 's nicer to know how the story ends when you start shooting, of course. But we could feel that the ending was in the material and we found one that felt right. It was quite a challenge for Lars Mikkelsen. He took it in stride, but it was a big professional challenge to always have to shoot two different outcomes to a scene. Maybe the film would end with him letting her go, maybe it would end with them staying together – we didn 't know. So his eyes get this weird shifty look at times that 's really interesting. "
Demanding processes are often the most rewarding as well, Wiedemann says. She feels privileged to work with material that has such complexity and mystery.
"I could see the quality of being in that chaos, " she says. "There was a feeling of respect and confidence about the project the whole way through, including on the shoot. Everyone could feel that the story had something new and challenging. It never drained us. It gave us energy. " Fupz Aakeson was more involved in the process of "A Caretaker's Tale" than he is when he simply hands a finished script to a director. He would often write at night during the shoot. It 's a way of working he had been wanting to try, and he found it to be fun but also strenuous.
"You want to have everything covered, of course, when you 're making a film – there 's so much money involved. But you also lose some playfulness and energy when everything comes wrapped and ready for the first day of shooting, " he says. "Where Katrine is coming from, which is theatre, they 'll try stuff out on stage and go, ‘That doesn 't work, now what do we do? ' It 's super useful to get to see something take shape in the process. We tried doing that here. Let me put it this way: I wouldn 't recommend it as a method, but it can do something. "
Least feminist director in Scandinavia
"A Caretaker's Tale" is an unusual and surprising film that 's bound to raise an eyebrow or two. And you have to ask, Could a man have made it or would that have been wrong?
"That would definitely have led to some obvious comments about the director being a creep that you don 't get when the director is a woman, " Wiedemann and Fupz Aakeson agree.
Wiedemann says it was important for her not to compromise her screenwriter 's original idea and avoid moralising about the story 's premise.
"I really tried to follow the radical idea Fupz gave me, which is: no moralising about this being a horny young girl. I 'm no doubt the least feminist director in Scandinavia. But I think it 's great. I have no problem with the men liking this girl, " the director laughs.
"That 's just the way it is. The truth hurts. It was important not to moralise about the material in any way, " Wiedemann says.