You might be forgiven for assuming that anyone capable of playing an entire Brahms piano concerto, flawlessly and with élan, had it all together, when behind the performer’s facade uncontrollable, unstable forces may rage. "Love and Rage", Morten Giese’s first feature film, charts that inner turbulence.
"What does it mean to lose your mind? There is so much prejudice about that: someone is either crazy or normal. I grew up with a father who was schizophrenic, so I know a little bit about those things."
The film follows a young conservatory student, Daniel (Cyron Melville), who appears to have inherited not only his deceased father’s enormous musical talent but also his fragile mind. Two events, falling in love and a new music professor’s inspiration, bring his emotions to a boil. As he moves closer to the edge, the film becomes intimately aligned with Daniel’s personal experience of the world around him.
All along, he gets little support from his selfabsorbed mother who only really sees him when he performs. When Daniel starts going out with Sofie, a cellist, he wants her to see him, and he has a hard time controlling the jealousy and budding sexuality that come with first love.
ANYONE COULD END UP PSYCHOTIC
As Giese tells me one afternoon at Zentropa in Filmbyen, his intention with "Love and Rage" is to describe what happens in jealous relationships, how young men can end up overcome by violent rage. Giese’s short films, "Boy Below" and "My Dad is a Champ", were compelling stories of boys’ experiences with fathers who are different from other people’s fathers, and the need to be seen and loved. Both films were written together with screenwriter Kim Leona, and this close collaboration continued on "Love and Rage".
“'Love and Rage’s' story builds on a long research process that came out of a desire to describe how fine the line can be between violent passion and violent aggression,” Giese says.
“What does it mean to lose your mind? There is so much prejudice about that: someone is either crazy or normal. I grew up with a father who was schizophrenic, so I know a little bit about those things,” he says. “As I experienced it, his problems originated in certain feelings that are familiar to all of us – completely ordinary feelings that have to do with how you grew up, your work and love. I wanted to explore the myth that someone is either insane or normal. I’m convinced we could all end up psychotic, if we got enough bad breaks.”
DRAMATIC FIRST LOVE
As Giese sees it, anxiety or psychosis never comes from just one thing but from several things going wrong in your life. Often, feelings involving love hit people the hardest.
“The film’s nub is romantic love. Love is where most people get a real taste of madness – meeting another person, falling madly in love and losing your senses. If you suffer from a deficit of love, falling in love can be epic. You can become obsessed by the thought of losing that love again and see threats and dangers on all sides.
“If you are like Daniel, who is angry because his mother let him down, and who has a strong sexual drive that’s fuelled by his anger – well, a tempestuous love affair and the fear of abandonment can make you dangerous to your surroundings. The film explores those powerful emotions that can affect anyone. In particular, the forbidden emotion, jealousy, which can get out of control when you’re young and experience love for the first time,” the director says.
THE CLASSICAL MUSIC WORLD
Giese early on knew what kind of story he wanted to tell, but it took him a while to find the setting for it. The picture started to gel when his research led him to Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy of Music.
“The music conservatory turned out to be perfect,” he says. “I saw some extremely talented and disciplined people there who were capable of communicating all kinds of emotions in the music, but at the same time were lonely people who did not function well socially. It was a perfect framework for the story of a young man falling in love with the same passion and intensity he feels for his music, and the dramatic consequences when he pursues his love with the same obsession he applies to perfecting his music.”
SENSITIVE AND DANGEROUS
"Love and Rage" hinges on the performance of its 24-year-old lead, Cyron Melville, who was nominated last year at the Danish film critics’ Bodil Award for his part in Natasha Arthy’s "Fighter" and was selected as Denmark’s Shooting Star at this year’s Berlinale. Finding the right actor for the demanding role was hard, Giese says, but Melville’s first audition blew him away.
“The role of Daniel is extremely demanding, because the character embraces such extreme sensitivity and danger. We almost need to see what happens inside his head. Saying something softly and gently, while also conveying dangerousness, is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Cyron was brilliant from his first audition on, and he really let himself be consumed by the role,” says Giese, who has a predilection for films with protagonists that are their own worst enemies.
CACOPHONY OF EMOTIONS
The film includes several subjective sequences showing Daniel’s deteriorating grip on reality. In one, strange hands grope his girlfriend’s body. In another, Daniel pushes himself so hard at the grand piano that blood drips on the keys. His rehearsals up to a big recital help drive the film’s action, which naturally is coloured by music. We first get a sense of Daniel’s incredible talent when he plays Bach’s technically demanding Goldberg Variations. Then when he starts going out with Sofie, she opens his world to more contemporary sounds.
“A gift that came with the location was getting to use so much music. There is incredible drama in piano concertos, like the one by Brahms which contains passion and every emotion in life to me.
“At the same time, there’s drama in the setting. Walking around the Music Academy, you are always hearing snippets of music. It’s a cacophony of emotions that’s hard not to be fascinated by. I’m full of admiration for people who practice so insanely much and then give us such thrills and raise the roof for brief moments,” Giese says.
WHAT ARE FILMS FOR?
The conservatory setting and the music also helped provide the sensuousness that Giese finds essential in films made for the big screen. He and co-writer Leona worked hard to make sure the story had honesty and truth. Plus, the story should be sensuous in a way that opens up emotions.
“In times increasingly ruled by television, we need to ask ourselves, What are films for? What experiences should we give people at the cinema? For me, there has to be an extraordinarily sensual, visual or violent experience. That’s what I try to give people by making a film that penetrates into the head of a young man and gives you some insight into what happens when someone has a mental breakdown,” Giese says.
“At the same time, I think it’s a good thing if a film indicates something beyond itself and has multiple layers. Complexity is a strength,” he says. “'Love and Rage' has a very specific story, but more generally I wanted to make the point that too often we forget to look out for each other – our neighbours, cousins, families. It’s important that we keep on talking and try to understand each other and how we deal with life. If we are aware and attentive to one another, the chances of preventing a personal crisis are much higher. We all have fragile minds, and we’re all responsible for making sure things don’t get out of hand”.