Jonas Alexander Arnby likes to leave the comfort zone | Interview with the director of WHEN ANIMALS DREAM [english version]

12. Juli 2014

Jonas Alexander Arnby

In case you just finished watching the latest episode of „Hemlock Grove“ and hunger for more werewolf madness you may be on the wrong track. The last thing you should expect from the remarkable feature film debut of Danish helmer Jonas Alexander Arnby are elaborated transformation sequences or a high blood rate. Quite the opposite is what the film has to offer. Selected for Critics’ Week at this years’ Cannes Film Festival, „When animals dream“ adds a good deal of Scandinavian realism to the genre and reminded quite a few critics of „Let the right one in“. We spoke to the director when presenting his film in Munich and learned that a US remake might already be in sight.

screen/read: „When animals dream“ is a very unusual type of horror movie and then again that is not even what it actually is. In the end it proves to be less of a horror movie than a psychological drama with a werewolf thrown in. How did you experience the reaction of the audience so far?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: The film moves in between genres in a way and I think people are a little bit surprised by that. They don’t know exactly what they should do or what leg to stand upon. But that’s also part of the wish for me. So I’m pretty happy with how it’s being received so far.

screen/read: So it was part of your intention to leave people puzzled after seeing the film?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: Exactly. It was on purpose but there was not really a bigger plan like, how far can I go in portraying this social realistic environment and Marie, the main character, in order to make a turnaround in the genre. She is motivated by the choices she has to make and only because the story needs it, only because there’s an urge to take that specific course. Not just because I as the filmmaker could do it.

screen/read: When you conceived the movie, did you have any role models or movies in mind that you felt providing you with an idea of where to go?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: Yeah, the old Brian De Palma version of „Carrie“ and its main character have been very inspiring for me. It’s actually a very cliché movie in a good sense and I always found it fascinating how simple its storytelling is. It’s like taking the stereotypes of coming-of-age and putting them into a horror movie. So that film has been a great inspiration. I also thought the portrayal of environment in „Winter’s Bone“ was extremely well executed. Sometimes the characters of a certain environment in reality deliver stronger fictional characters than you can come up with. And I think „Winter’s Bone“ was one of the films that showed this to me.

When Animals Dream

screen/read: Pretty specific about your movie is its small amount of dialogue. Was that an initial idea or did it happen on the go?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: That was totally my idea from the beginning. Maybe it’s just me but I think that Danish movies have a lot of dialogue sometimes. With too much explanation the motivation becomes overmotivated for me. You can show a lot of things without words. That’s much more interesting when you’re doing a film. For me it’s more about the space that is created between the actual dialogue. The psychology that happens around it. Especially in that specific environment where this film takes place. These people don’t talk a lot, they have a certain way of expressing themselves without words and rather on the inside than on the outside.

screen/read: Could you imagine doing a completely silent movie?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: [thinks for a moment] No, I don’t think so because I’m not into those types of concept movies. I rather want to balance things according to what the project needs. The restraints of making rules is not my way of approaching a film. I think every project has its way of communicating and it should be like that. When I was in Cannes this year there was a Ukrainian film which had no dialogue. The two main characters were deaf and they were only communicating through sign language. I didn’t get to see it but I found the idea interesting because the silent approach was totally story motivated and I like that.

screen/read: Being a Danish filmmaker, how would you describe the current state of Danish Cinema? Where do you see its strengths and its weaknesses?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: I think there’s a new era. About 20 years ago we had the whole Dogma wave which was very important at that time for Danish Cinema. Afterwards there was a bit of a vacuum. Filmmakers didn’t know what to do. The question was, how do we proceed after such a big success? Are we going on with Dogma, are we turning our backs on it? There’s about a handful of directors who kept moving forward apart from this question. The leading figure of course is Lars von Trier. And if you like his movies or not, you have to show him respect and gratitude for what he has done for Danish Cinema. There’s just no comparison. And then there are a few other directors who are doing really well abroad. – I belong to a new generation of filmmakers now. We’re doing genre movies, we’re coming from different places like advertisement or alternative film schools or we’ve been studing film science at university. And there’s a chance of getting our films financed because the industry and the market have opened their eyes for new talent. Three or four films are now coming out after mine which are all social-realistic genre clashs. I also think that all those very popular tv crime dramas help a lot. They put the focus on genre and that benefits the new generation.

screen/read: Do you want to stay in your homecountry to make movies or is it a goal to move abroad and work in a more international film industry like the US?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: I see film language as universal even though Danish films have a very specific tone. But I totally want to move on and I’m working on an English language European production now and there’s also an offer from Los Angeles.

screen/read: What is your position on American remakes of successful European movies? Would you like to see your film enter this tradition or rather prefer it untouched?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: Well, we’re already negotiating about the remake rights. Of course you have feelings involved in your film for many years. But then you also have to let go. So if someone wants to adapt this film, let’s give them a try. I mean, I don’t want to be part of it, it has nothing to do with me, I’m not going to put my name on it, no matter if it’s good or bad. This film is done for me and I would never do a remake myself. But if someone else has an idea how to do it I’m fine with that.

screen/read: What are your aspiration for the future? Will you stick to genre films or move into a different direction?

Jonas Alexander Arnby: I think I will always do something completely different if I can. I’m not going to do another horror movie. I love horror but that’s not what I want to keep doing. I want to to do science-fiction, drama, thrillers and anything besides horror. Because I like to be on territory that I’m not too familiar with. You need to get out of your comfort zone as a creative person and with horror I feel a little bit comfortable because I just did it. And now I want to move on.

[Thanks to Jonas Alexander Arnby for taking the time. Find the German translation of this interview here ]

When animals dream

[Images: Elizabeth Heltoft Arnby (portray) | Prokino]

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