ISABELLA Eklöf’s debut feature Holiday is one of the best films of 2018. Provocative and arresting, it tells the troubling story of Sascha (played by the outstanding Victoria Carmen Sonne), a young woman who is the trophy girlfriend of a Danish gangster.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Isabella ahead of her must-see film’s screenings at the BFI London Film Festival on 15, 16 and 17 October.
Q: We are so accustomed to stories of male gangsters in film with female characters largely on the periphery. Why did you want to tell the story of the gangster’s girlfriend?
A: A producer presented me with a book titled Louis’ Life by Johanne Algren. I was taken in by the vivid detail and the keen eye of the author. It was obviously based on the real-life experiences of a person who had been to all corners of life.
I wasn’t that keen on the storyline of the book, but I really wanted to work with the author. So I started working with Johanne to develop something different to the book, but using those real life experiences and that eye for detail. During our time writing together, Johanne went on a holiday and the rest, as they say, is history.
Q: Where did the inspiration for the film’s main character, Sascha, come from?
A: Sascha is a mix of me, Johanne and Victoria. The setting she’s in is certainly a critique both of capitalism generally and the sheltered life of Western society – that includes myself – which makes it possible to strive for the finer things in life while living off the backs of workers in coal mines, textile factories and brothels.
Q: Victoria Carmen Sonne is superb as Sascha. What qualities did she bring to the project?
A: Vic is more feisty than me and Johanne. She brought more resistance to Michael (the gangster boyfriend played by Lai Yde) than was originally planned. She also brought a youthful colt-like goofiness that I remember from when I was her age, but that wasn’t really in the script.
Q: I was particularly taken in by the scene where Sascha dances intensely in front of a mirror by herself. It reminded me of a scene from Julia Ducournau’s ‘Raw’ where Garance Marillier’s character ends up violently kissing herself in the mirror. What can you tell us about the scene?
A: THE dance scene is about trying to see and understand yourself, and trying to put yourself in the context of the environment you’re in. Also acknowledging that if you can’t mirror yourself in the people around you, you can do it through introspection. The scene was as magical on set as in the film. We were all spellbound by Vic’s intensity and emotion, every single take.
Q: Male-on-female violence and displays of power are a major part of the film. I imagine the film’s graphic rape scene will also be a big talking point for many. How important for you was show such an explicit scene of sexual violence?
A: I HAVE a long-term agenda to show more of sex and real sexuality on the screen. Like a child, I have to poke at what’s forbidden – especially when it seems pointless that it should be so. All of us handle our own genitals every single day and the lucky ones someone else’s too. Why on earth should that be such a big secret? I think that, as with everything else, sweeping things under the carpet is ultimately destructive emotionally and, as it follows, physically.
Concerning the violence, this is very much about what the core of the #MeToo-movement is about. We have to open our eyes wide to what is going on for a fucking lot of people and not dismiss it as a female issue, (that’s only 50% of everyone) or something too scary, vulgar or unappetising to speak about.
Again, I am convinced that non-communication is always dangerous.
Q: Leading on from that, I can’t help but wonder how the scene worked on a practical level. Can reveal anything about how you put it together?
A: Lai is wearing a prosthetic and Victoria a protective band-aid like cover. The sperm is sfx mixed by yours truly from milk and powder sugar, applied by an sfx expert who was erased from the image by a vfx expert!
Q: This was your first time directing a feature. How was the experience and has it wetted your appetite for more?
A: IT is a big job, but I felt very much at home and in my element throughout. I feel as if I’m finally allowed to do what I do best!
Q: What is next for you?
A: An intimate, emotionally messy drama about sibling jealousy and eroticism, set in Stockholm. I wrote that over the summer.
Then a story about a researcher in computer science at a Stockholm university who sets about creating new morals for her institution and ultimately all of society, through advanced AI. I am writing that this fall.
Followed by a drama about a young man who has to flee all the way to Greenland to escape his ravenous father. And when that’s not enough, he gets into women and finally pills. I am writing it this winter.
Plus I’m writing a TV-series with Ali Abbasi. So I’m not out of work for now!