Back in 2003, Christoffer Boe won the Camera d’Or award for his first feature, 'Reconstruction,' a film set in a labyrinthine Copenhagen which turned the romantic drama inside out. At that time, no one would have predicted that, 15 years later, he would simultaneously be bringing out the fourth instalment of a mainstream film franchise and a major action project on Danish primetime television.
"It certainly was not in the cards that someone like me would be making film franchises. It’s nuts!” the director says, realising some might turn up their noses at his switch from arthouse auteur to popular storyteller. But that doesn’t bother the 44-year-old filmmaker. He was looking for fresh challenges, and he wanted to connect with a big audience.
From arthouse to genre
"I was tired of all the work of making arthouse films when no one watches them anyway," Boe says. "At some point, I got more interested in using conventions and genres to draw people in. Instead of deconstructing everything, I wanted to see what would come out of embracing the basic premises of a genre story."
The transformation began back in 2014, when Boe released his 'Sex, Drugs & Taxation,' a biopic about two revolutionary figures in recent Danish history, the radical libertarian Mogens Glistrup and the hedonist capitalist Simon Spies. The film, which attracted 315,000 to the cinemas, marked the point, the director says, when he started moving away from ”more introspective, intimate films," like the philosophical 'Allegro' (2005) and the low-budget 'Offscreen' (2006), and instead turned his gaze outward to the world.
"The difference is that before, I used to invent what we would be seeing. Now, I try to create a dialogue with the audience instead about things in society everyone can see. I still see my role as that of a clown pointing out things that people tend to overlook. But it’s more fun when people are actually watching where I’m pointing."
Between vision and respect
Boe is used to having a hand in the whole process from screenwriting to financing meetings, promotion and press releases. So it was sometimes a challenge to work on a production like 'The Purity of Vengeance,' where the script is already written, and both the cast and the narrative universe are already more or less defined by Jussi Adler-Olsen’s bestselling novels and the previous instalments in the series.
There was a time when Boe would have avoided that kind of thing like the plague. He signed on anyway because of the project’s scope and stellar creative partners.
"I thought if I finally take on a project like this, it will be because of the opportunity to work with the best people, on a film that packs a real wallop. You lose some autonomy, obviously, but it’s also liberating not to have to invent everything yourself. The challenge, of course, with so many givens is to make a film where people still go, 'Damn’, that’s a Boe film!' That ambition doesn’t go away."
Boe thinks his experience as an experimental auteur has taught him a lot, also when it comes to working with more popular stories.
"Coming from where I do is invaluable for me, because I know what it means to bring in your own idea and insist on it. That’s important in a film franchise, where it’s so easy to fall back on the same old way of doing things. When things are usually done one way, I instinctively go, Let’s try doing it this way now."
"I guess that would be deemed contrarian and annoying in some contexts, but in my field it’s a breath of fresh air. Respectfully done, of course. Carl Mørck should still be Carl Mørck," he says about the iconic detective figure in 'The Purity of Vengeance.'
Genre training wheels
In 'The Purity of Vengeance,' Boe is putting his own brand on an established universe, whereas he both conceived and wrote his dream project, 'Warrior,' about a combat veteran infiltrating a Copenhagen biker gang. The series aims to give Danish viewers something Boe thinks has been missing: a powerful Danish genre series on an international scale.
"My clear ambition was to tell a well-crafted, riveting, action-packed story with more of an American than a classical Danish pace," Boe says.
"We have made some really cool shows in Denmark, but we have clearly excelled in character drama more than the genre-based. I wanted to so something that combines the two: an action-driven story that doesn’t lose its character focus."
Once obsessed with deconstructing genres, the director is now more concerned with using them effectively. But he dismisses any mention of a schism between the old and the new Boe. His intention has always been the same, despite – in a Danish context – the somewhat unconventional path he has followed.
"We don’t very often in Danish film see someone leap from one thing to another. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything odious about it. Whether I’m making 'Reconstruction' or 'Warrior,' the ambition is the same: telling an interesting story, and doing it well – and that’s still a pretty difficult thing to do."