"Beast" is the story of a writer, Bruno, played by Nicolas Bro, whose ever-lasting, but destructive love for his wife Maxine transforms him from compassionate husband to bloodthirsty beast.
"The whole intention was to portray the extreme range of emotions, from revulsion to passionate love that a married couple can go through in a single day."
Before this concept was born, all it took was an ambition and a phone call. "We're shooting a film in January. I don't have an idea yet, but I'll get one." That's roughly how it went when Christoffer Boe called his regular producer, Tine Grew Pfeiffer, and told her about his audacious plan to start shooting a feature just six weeks later.
A couple of days later, Boe called up again. This time he had a vision. They were going to make a psycho-horror-drama, kind of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" meets "Alien".
"The whole intention was to portray the extreme range of emotions, from revulsion to passionate love that a married couple can go through in a single day. I didn't want to show any of the in-between stuff, so the film was from the get-go envisioned to be very fragmented."
UNDER COVER OF THE NIGHT
Boe's solution to the challenge he had set himself was to pull all-nighters in Copenhagen bars. But he didn't hang at the bar or play the fruit machines. He sat in front of his laptop and, in just six long nights of writing until he was kicked out, he finished the screenplay for "Beast". Indeed, the frantic pace was essential to the whole process from concept to finished film. "The project got its energy from everything happening so quickly. It was written quickly and executed quickly."
The film was shot in three short weeks, in Boe's apartment, on a bare-bones budget. In his case, it seems, haste does not make waste. Nicolas Bro saw the potential of the ambitious project from the moment he read the story about Bruno, who loves Maxine so much that he's ready to destroy her, as seen when her infidelity makes him want to carve her up and make love to her in equal parts.
"The script was a treasure chest, with a lot of literary value in the dialogue," Bro says. "Poetry can make dialogue unpsychological, but here it makes the portrait of Bruno real. When you're in the place he's in, reality has exploded," Bro says.
A WORKING BROMANCE
"Beast" is Boe and Bro's sixth collaboration. They first met so long ago neither can remember exactly how, but they really got to know each other when Bro starred in Boe's still unreleased slow-motion thriller "Prediction".
As Bro puts it, back then he was just a piece of fruit who got picked for the role. Now, nearly a decade later, the fruit-picking has obviously matured into a working relationship and a personal friendship.
It shows, in the respect and warmth that permeate their conversations, as well as in Boe's three films with Bro in the lead. In "Prediction", "Offscreen" and now "Beast", the director throws one demanding challenge after another at Bro, including breakdowns in public places, nude scenes and bloody assault.
Their collaboration is anything but sparing. Boe describes their method as a "challenging game" and, despite the challenges and humiliations, Bro finds their partnership extremely enriching.
"Working with Christoffer has peeled so many layers from me as an actor," he says. "Bashfulness, vanity, lack of courage have been shot to pieces. I've acquired a set of tools enabling me to do things I wouldn't otherwise dare to do."
These tools also benefit Boe who has gained a lot more than a game playmate in Bro. "We often plunge into the abyss – looking for Atlantis," Boe says. "I'll do it even though I'm not much of a diver, because I know Bro's always going to get us to dry land. That's also why it's so inspiring to write for an actor whose potential you know."
A central scene in Beast very clearly illustrates Bro's skills. When Bruno discovers that his wife is cheating on him with a mutual friend, he ambushes the friend on the street and talks him into having a beer with him. Bruno acts friendly in the scene, but a beast born of jealousy and troubled love is growing inside him and is starting to bare its fangs, forcing him to constantly toe the line between amiability and madness.
The scene only works thanks to Bro's powerhouse performance, Boe says. "There wouldn't even be a scene if Bro couldn't go to those extremes. We see the glassy sheen on his eyes that gives the scene a tinge of true madness."
"Beast". Photo: My Thordal
A BIG PULSATING LUMP OF FLESH
Despite Bro's realistic-looking madness and the bloody end to Bruno and Maxine's marriage, Boe's not out to scare anyone away from marital love. Quite the contrary.
"'Beast' is my attempt to show the true, human face of love. The heart – and love – is often rendered in this delicate pastel-red hue and polished form, when in actuality it's a big, pulsating lump of flesh with extreme energy and life-force, pumping blood into the arteries until the final throes of death. That's why 'Beast' is such a positive love story, too, because it shows extreme passion playing out within the otherwise bourgeois confines of marriage."
In that sense, "Beast" has a clear thematic connection to Boe's past films, which to lesser or greater extent all revolve around love and obsession. But this time the themes are spun out in a bloodier, less refined form. It's awkward at times, but that's exactly the point.
"In films, you're not supposed to directly address the big emotions. You dance around them and build them up. But here we go straight for the emotions and plough into the themes instead of thematising them," the director says, concluding with a satisfied chuckle. "It's gorilla filmmaking – with the blood of the beast rushing through its veins."