Marius Holst, director of King Of Devil’s Island, chats with Sam Hobson about Norwegian cinema and making his first genre film.
At the beginning of our chat with Norwegian director Marius Holst, he's deep in the process of editing. ‘A new film?' Front Row enquires excitedly, recalling that a cursory scan of his imdb page hadn't shown he'd started another project. Instead, it turns out, he's working on an advertisement he shot for a local newspaper. “I do one every now and then, you know,” Holst explains, sounding amused. “If you want to also live while directing, it's a nice thing to do between gigs.”
That sweet, and charming, reality seems miles away from his latest film, King Of Devil's Island, a big and monstrously bleak prison-picture based on the true story of the Bastøy Island juvenile riots. Shot in what looks like an endless rainstorm, and rocked by thunderclaps of sudden, spiteful violence, Holst's film tosses in an anxious tumult of menace and hopelessness. “I grew up in Oslo,” he explains, “and the island itself isn't too far from there, so I always knew of it as sort of a mythical place, and you knew of the bad boys that lived on the island – it was something you were threatened with.
“Later, after I made my first film, I started reading up on it. Through my research, I met this man who'd been there in the early 1930s. I got him talking, and he started telling me about his experiences there. He was [imprisoned] from when he was nine until he was fifteen and that was what triggered me into thinking ‘this is the story I want to tell.'”
But, he admits, making that real-life story into a film, it loses something of its reality and takes on the expectations set by other films telling similar tales, so to audiences, it becomes a genre film. “We're [working] in a genre where we share everything from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, to the many other films in that same ‘institutionalised' setting. It was very important for me then to tell [our] story, and have the characters be very Norwegian.”
Of the films from Norway that have made their way over here recently, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what the Norwegian cinematic voice is, let alone grasp a proper sense of it as a place. “For me, it's just my natural voice. I just try and use what's within my taste and temperature, and when we express ourselves we are in some sense more reserved than, say, a Spanish director, and it's in our reactions, and the way we speak, and the way we finally explode, and our relation to nature and life. It will come out of my way of seeing things, I hope. Again, it has something to do with taste and temperature. It's very clichéd, but we do tend to tell things with looks, less words. We're a bit more austere, and a bit more reserved. I mean, we all grew up with European and Nordic cinema, but, like you, [we also see things] a lot in relation to American cinema and their genres. So that is also there, because we're also in their territory, trying to express something that's typically ours.”
King Of Devil's Island is in cinemas nationally