The "Bourne" films and "The Insider" are a few of the American titles that pop up, when cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro describes the many discussions he had with director Kasper Barfoed about the mood and style of his new thriller, "The Candidate". Claro previously shot Christoffer Boe's "Reconstruction" (winner of the Camera d'Or in Cannes, 2003) and Allegro, as well as Dagur Kári's "Dark Horse" (in the running for Un Certain Regard, 2005). "The Candidate" is Claro's first pure thriller. Merging a tight, driving plot with a sensual narrative empathising with the protagonist’s predicament was an exciting challenge.
The dominant protagonist is played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas (star of "Reconstruction" and "Allegro", Susanne Bier's "Brothers", Lars von Trier's "The Idiots", and many other Danish films). Playing defence attorney Jonas Bechmann, he is hurled into a web of dramatic events, starting when he wakes up from a night on the town and finds a young woman dead in his hotel bathroom.
Remembering nothing, he panics and flees the room. But he is soon blackmailed by people threatening to reveal his secret. Bit by bit, he discovers that the blackmailers may have had a hand in his father's mysterious death the year before, setting the stage for a fast-paced yarn with action and chase scenes that are a far cry from the standard Danish film ingredients.
As Claro puts it, part of the fascination of doing "The Candidate" was anchoring a genre mostly associated with Hollywood movies in a Danish reality and a recognisable Copenhagen. An array of unusual tools was employed in this process; prime among them a so-called visual contract. A kind of manual for the film's visual style, the contract compiled various forms of mood and character images, alongside illustrations, stills and collaged images, serving as inspiration for each scene in the script. Devised by production designers Nikolaj Danielsen and Sputnik, the contract kept everyone on the crew focused on just what kind of film they were making.
"When you go for a certain visual style that's not all that common in Danish cinema, it's a big help that the whole crew is hooked into what we're creating together," Claro says, showing me the impressive visual manuscript. "For me, the visual contract was a huge inspiration that made it easier to talk grain and texture, as well as specific locations. We deliberately strove to reflect Jonas' character in his surroundings by depicting his conflict – between the old system and contemporary reality – in the film's use of wood and glass. The aim of the visual style was to create what we called 'documentary expressionism', and the visual contract was essential in specifying what we really meant by that."
A RAW, HAND-HELD LOOK
"The Candidate" is the first Danish film shot in the 2-perf format. A bleach bypass was done on the original camera negative to get a rawer, grainier look. Everything was shot with a hand-held camera. One aspect the filmmakers were going for, inspired in part by the Bourne films, was establishing a sense of the camera not knowing any more than the protagonist does.
"We deliberately worked with the camera trailing behind a little bit. The camera could never be waiting for the action. The film is fast paced and the camera latches on to the action," Claro says. He was delighted with the opportunity to do an effective genre film in a Danish setting.
"The Candidate" opens in autumn 2008. In the interim, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's conspiracy thriller "What No One Knows" (which screened in Berlin) will be working the same Danish genre ground broken by Ole Christian Madsen this March with "Flame & Citron", the historical action drama about two Danish WW2 resistance fighters. The Dogme95 Manifesto banned genre films and superficial action, but in the new millennium action-based genre films have been making a strong showing, and their ambitions reach beyond Denmark.