Bille August is currently putting the finishing touches on his first Danish-produced film in 25 years. And a film based on a real slice of Danish history at that. But "Marie Krøyer" is first and foremost the story of a strong woman and her ill-fated marriage to the mercurial painter P.S. Krøyer.
"I was attracted to the Skagen Painters because P.S. Krøyer, one of the best-known figures in the community, has made these stunning portraits of his beautiful wife, Marie Krøyer."
The Danish director scored a stellar hat-trick in 1987 with "Pelle the Conqueror", winning the Palme d’Or, a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his adaptation of a classic Danish novel about a poor immigrant boy around 1900 on the threshold of modern industrial society. August’s film is particular moving in its depiction of the relationship between Pelle and his father, played by Max von Sydow.
August’s following film, "The Best Intentions" (1991), from a Bergman script, also won the Palme d’Or. The director then directed a string of big literary adaptations, including "The House of the Spirits", "Smilla’s Sense of Snow", "Les Misérables" and, most recently, in 2007, "Goodbye Bafana", about the 20-year relationship between Nelson Mandela and his jailer.
To get behind the surface
In his new film, "Marie Krøyer", August is not only returning to Denmark, he is also dramatising a canonised chapter of Danish history set in roughly the same era as "Pelle the Conqueror".
"I was attracted to the Skagen Painters because P.S. Krøyer, one of the best-known figures in the community, has made these stunning portraits of his beautiful wife, Marie Krøyer. And because of these paintings, she was considered among the most admired women in Denmark at the time," says Bille August.
The Skagen painters are named for the remote village on the northernmost tip of the country’s main peninsula where they moved in search of a more truthful expression steeped in the powerful local sunlight, the sweeping scenery and the authentic life of the local fishermen.
"It always fascinated me that so many brilliant painters would choose to settle in such a remote place as Skagen was back then. But what especially concerned me was trying to depict what was behind the idyllic facade presented by the paintings."
A woman ahead of her time
The film focuses on Marie Krøyer, an artist on her own right, and her unhappy marriage to the bipolar Krøyer, and opens at a time when Krøyer’s condition is deteriorating and the couple’s dream of sharing their lives as artists crumbles and degenerates into frustration and sorrow. When Marie, together with their daughter Vibeke, escapes on a trip to get some peace, she meets the Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén and falls head over heels in love.
Bille August was particularly occupied with the psychological portrait of a woman and her fate in an age when women still were not fully recognised as individuals with demands and needs of their own. August shows us Marie Krøyer as torn between the roles of caring mother, loyal wife and talented artist – and, not least, as a woman trying to realise the dream of finding true love.
"The marital drama forced Marie to make some tough decisions that helped her to grow into a strong and independent person, a woman ahead of her time," August explains.
Capturing the Nordic light
The film wrapped in November, and for the 63-year-old director it has been an inspiring experience to be working with a Danish story again, and especially to be working with Danish actors.
"Obviously, a lot of new and to me unknown actors have entered the field since Pelle, which means that I have been able to choose without any bias," says August who has been filming mostly on location in Skagen.
"The story is also one in which the special light found in Scandinavia plays quite a major role. It’s been a great challenge to try and capture the landscape and the light from the paintings."
Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Søren Sætter-Lassen star as the film’s two leads. Peter Asmussen wrote the script, and Signe Leick Jensen and Karin Trolle produced for SF Film Production. Domestic release is set for August 2012.