Signe and Thomas (“Ninjababy” breakout Kristine Kujath Thorp and Eirik Sæther) are an attractive young couple in Oslo. They also happen to bring out the worst in each other. When his career starts to take off, Signe tries to get some attention as well – by making herself sick.
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“I definitely recognize the pettiness, the competitiveness, all of these things. I have experienced mini-versions of these arguments and these feelings,” says Borgli, also behind 2017 curio “DRIB” combining fact and fiction, and an energy drink campaign.
“I wanted them to be watchable, not likeable. Also, I find it much funnier when the characters in the movie are not in on the joke. When they are stuck inside all this drama the audience gets to see from the outside. And they can laugh about it.”
Borgli, who cameos in the film as a director of a commercial gone wrong, never intended to dwell too much on his protagonist’s motivations.
“There has been this trend of ‘trauma stories,’ where certain behaviors can be traced back to one traumatic event. That’s true in some cases, but a lot of it is generated by our culture. Signe can’t blame anyone else for her shitty behavior,” he says.
Desperate for sympathy, or perhaps even fame, she comes across an illegal drug. As her condition worsens, Borgli makes a swerve into body horror territory with the help of prosthetic makeup designer Izzi Galindo.
“People who suffer from the Munchausen syndrome often fake illness. But here, she actually makes herself sick. Horrifically, too,” he adds.
“These are privileged people: Signe is white and blonde, she has no real issues, no struggles, no purpose. She needs to invent it, but reality keeps disappointing her. It’s a very relatable thing – we all have these hopes, ambitions and plans. Here, it’s just elevated.”
Inspired by Cronenberg or the works of British music video director Chris Cunningham, Borgli decided to bring elements of body horror into a recognizable, ordinary environment, taking his audience by surprise.
“This way, they can be as shocked as the people surrounding this couple. It’s like that Tom Waits quote: ‘I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.’ That’s what I wanted to do: make a beautiful film about terrible things.”
The film was lensed by Benjamin Loeb, also behind Jesse Eisenberg’s “When You Finish Saving the World,” opening Cannes’ Critics’ Week.
Borgli collaborated with Oslo Pictures on the film, fresh off the success of Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World,” with Andrea Berentsen Ottmar and Dyveke Bjørkly Graver taking on producing duties alongside Garage Film International and Film i Väst. But he still intends to navigate between two worlds, currently developing new projects in the U.S.
“I have a strong connection with Europe and I don’t want to lose that, but the U.S. is an interesting place to explore. I am learning a lot, being here,” he says, also referencing some famous antiheroes of American cinema.
“There is a long list of these unlikeable, morally corrupt male characters: Travis Bickle, Daniel Plainview. But when it comes to women, the list is much shorter. It’s harder to accept a flawed female character, it seems. I don’t know why,” he says.
While David Fincher’s smash “Gone Girl,” starring Rosamund Pike, provided a useful example, the casting of Kristine Kujath Thorp also proved to be crucial. The Danish actor will soon head to the convent in Katrine Brocks’ drama “The Great Silence.”
“We shot our film right before she became a nun, so she went through spiritual cleansing after this,” jokes Borgli.
“Katrine has this charisma that’s easy to sympathize with. In some ways, it’s similar to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ – Jordan Belfort has all these horrible qualities, but you have Leonardo DiCaprio playing him. We are so flawed as humans. But it doesn’t mean we can’t be interesting to watch.”
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