Christoffer Boe - Beast

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch Christoffer Boe's new film Beast, right before its big iTunes release. Things got even better when I had the chance to ask Mr Boe a couple of questions about his latest film, making this my first proper and official interview ever! So if you want to hear the man talk about horror, film music and why thinking Bond is gay is not such a bad thing after all ... do read on.

Christoffer Boe portrait

Niels Matthijs: I noticed that your films used to have it easier finding international distribution. Offscreen was only just released here in Belgium, where Reconstruction and Allegro had more timely releases. No word about Everything Will Be Fine so far and I'm not sure we'll ever see Spies & Glistrup in stores here. Are services like iTunes helping smaller films to reach bigger audiences once again or is it still difficult to get your films out there?

Christoffer Boe: I think everybody in the Art Cinema sphere of movie making hopes that the new online services will help reconnect the movies with an audience! But I think it's a little too early to say if it's just dream wishes or if this reconfiguring of the structure of distribution will actually change something significantly. So status right now is that making Art House movies is not the most profitable business. And while we all know that money isn't everything - the no-money situation is unfortunately a very direct reflection of the fact that nobody watches the movies. And THAT is not a very desirable situation. Even for an Art House director.

With Beast you seem to take a similar approach as with Reconstruction and Allegro. A very classical drama at the core, enriched by secondary and more modern genre influences. Is this an approach you take knowingly or does it come naturally to you?

Can it be both? It reflects a style of storytelling that I like and that I've spent sometime - too much time - thinking about. But on the other hand it also comes very naturally to me - so my movies come out this way unless I very consciously try NOT to make them do so. Basically I love genres and how they shape, evolve and transform cinema into something very precise. But I also think it's important to have a very personal relationship with genres and conventions. You need to define your own way into the forest of movie making. You could call my credo: Conservative Anarchism.

After watching Beast the prospect of marriage might not seem all that appealing to people. Still you say the film also shows a positive side of marriage. Can you elaborate on that because apart from the beginning I have some trouble seeing what you mean with "positive"?

Bruno will go the extreme to hold on to his wife. He loves her - maybe more than life itself. There seems to be almost nothing he won't do to keep her. If that's not love then what is? Sure - most of us wouldn't want to be in that kind of relationship. But that's not really the goal of this movie - nor should it be of any movie: so be a guidebook to a happy relationship. What I wanted was to look at the mechanism - the love, obsession, hatred and jealousy - of a relationship and but under close examination. And in the end I think its positive because marriage is such a strong bond between people - it's really the place where the most extreme emotions can evolve. Marriage is like the rain forest for emotions. It's the place where the most extreme things evolve because the forces are so strong.

I saw a video where you gave new filmmakers the advice to watch lots of films and use them as an influence in their own work. I'm wondering if there are any films that directly influenced Beast?

There were a few masterworks we all watched - just too make sure we would fail: Possession (Zulawski), Rosemary's Baby (Polanski), The Girlfriend Experience (Soderbergh)

Seeing as Beast borrows from the horror genre, do you have favorite horror films or are you just interested in some particular elements the genre has to offer?

I love how different genres tap into different aspects of existence. To me Horror is all about body identity, the fear of the self, and the abyss of one's own imagination/psyche/dreams. In other words: the perfect setting to look into the hidden realities of relationship between man & wife.

Beast is the fifth time you cooperated with Nicolas Bro (not counting your latest), you've worked with Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Marijana Jankovic before too. Can it be difficult for newcomers to feel at home when they join your crew, seeing you already have a strong bond with other members?

Maybe. But we're pretty friendly towards new comers so it hasn't been a problem yet. Seriously: I work with people I respect and that keep pushing themselves and myself to keep looking further. For this movie I worked with a very young film crew whom I had never worked with before and they were all extremely passionate and skilled at what they did.

The soundtrack always feels like a very important part of your films. I remember a particular scene in Beast where the music suddenly cuts from more classical pieces to darker ambient drones. How do you usually choose the music you want for a particular scene?

I have worked with Morten Green (sound designer) since film school - and he is really a master at mixing music and sound design in order to create a very specific filmic atmosphere. I was also lucky enough to work with Sylvain Chauveau again and we share a great love for Georges Delerue and we wanted to create something thick and emotional. So it's really a question of the 3 of us trying to push the movie somewhere where it feels right.

Do you feel that most other directors underestimate the part music plays in a film? I always get the impression that many directors see a soundtrack as a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to improve their films.

I really don't know. But the ones that really know how to use music stick out: Godard, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Kubrick. They have a wonderful personal, idiosyncratic and distinct way of using music that makes their movies stand apart even more.

The films I've seen from you are not all that straightforward. There's always a layer of symbolism in there and Beast is no different. When you incorporate these symbols, do you think them through thoroughly (as in: is there a logical/direct explanation for each symbol in your film) or is it more emotional and are these symbols just things that you think "feel right" without the need for a direct explanation?

This could turn into a very long explanation - so I will state this very shortly: I think its a great shame that modern cinema is so focused on "meaning" - which is really not meaning at all but just comprehensibility. Images are not always directly comprehensible - but that doesn't mean they don't have meaning. You have to let the images in - have to wait - have to work for it. Not to say that it's a goal to make incomprehensible movies - any idiot can do that. What it means is this: movies can be made in such a way that the texture of the image, the feeling of the sound and the look of an eye actually carries meaning - without in any straight forward way being comprehensible. But when done right these elements will work with the movie - and evolve with the movie as you as a spectator watches it with different assumptions. Good movies are not the same for all people. They are great movies in many different ways - depending on how you view them.
This does NOT imply that Beast is a great movie - but that I wanted to make one last movie within a tradition of movie making where the image & the feeling were more important than comprehensibility.

These days you can't even make a new Bond film without people thinking they saw something that hints at Bond being gay. How do you handle far-fetched theories people have about your films. Do you welcome them, do you find them amusing or do you think people should spendt heir time on more constructive things in life?

I love them. Bring 'em on. Theories reconnect us with movies because they make us look at things in new ways - often even if they are blatantly wrong.