Why is it so hard to love another human being?

Norwegian film director Aasne Vaa Greibrokks first full length feature tackles one of life’s great questions.

David is an author living in a cottage by the sea where he is working on a new play. His ex-wife Sarah reluctantly comes to help. The play tells the story of their relationship from the time they met as 23 year olds until the present, when they are both in their fifties. The play has four acts: One for each decade. It’s been ten years since the relationship ended, but feelings love and loyalty are still there.

– Very often in movies you have all these outside obstacles that make love impossible. I think it’s much more common that the obstacles come from within the relationship. Why is it so hard to make a relationship work? It think that’s an intriguing question, says director Aasne Vaa Greibrokk.

David and Sarah in their fifties, played by two of Scandinavias most experiences actors, Magnus Krepper and Ann Eleonora Jørgensen. Photo: Motlys

We meet in a café in the centre of Oslo a few weeks before the premiere of Greibrokk’s first feature film, All the Beauty. Greibrokk still doesn’t know what critics and moviegoers will think of the film, but her efforts as a director have already been recognized. Her graduation film ​​at the Norwegian Film School in Lillehammer in 2012, To Whom It May Concern, received a lot of positive attention and more importantly: Greibrokk is now a part of The Norwegian Film Institute’s talent program and got financial support for her film fresh out of school. 

– I feel very lucky. Having said that, I can’t let other people determine wether I should be making movies or not. At school they told us that we would meet a lot of closed doors, that no one would be interested in us as filmmakers. They wanted us to know it was though out there. I heard that for years. Then I graduated and my experience was the exact opposite.

Aasne Vaa Greibrokk photographed by Caroline Ramnæs

As a debutant, Greibrokk could have created a straightforward story of love, but that’s not what she has done. Instead, she has eight different actors playing the two main characters, David and Sarah, in various stages of the love story. In doing so, she explores the intricacies of a relationship on a far more universal level. 

– We’re quite used to seeing an older and a younger actor playing the same character on film. We know that they don’t really look alike, but we accept it. I wanted to change it around and see what happens if I was completely open about the fact that they’re different actors. What if several of them were allowed to approach the same character in their own way? Would they still arrive at something universal? says Greibrokk.

– You’re 33 years old yourself, what’s it like to describe love seen from the more mature perspective of the 50 year olds?

– The actors were a big help in creating the characters and were constantly challenging my beliefs. Besides, I’ve been fascinated by people that were older than me all my life. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I was an only child and grew up surrounded by adults. I’ve observed them a lot, so for me it has been a natural starting point.

Marte Germaine Christensen and Emil Johnsen play David and Sarah as 33 year olds. We meet them on a train journey which represents yet another turning point in their relationship. Photo: Motlys

Two of Scandinavia’s most experienced actors, Magnus Krepper and Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, play David and Sarah in their fifties. Jørgensen, who became a house hold name through the hugely successful Danish television series The Killing, also participated in Greibrokk’s graduation film.

– I traveled to Copenhagen and met with several Danish actors, but Ann was the one who challenged me the most. She asked me a lot of questions about the nudity in the film. What was the point of it? I figured that having her as part of my film was one of the most challenging things I could do.

– Why is the point of the nudity in your films?

– I think that in the relationship between David and Sarah, for example, there’s is no doubt that sexuality plays a major role. To not show it, would be weird. I also think it’s nice to be able to show mature bodies on film next to the young ones. You don’t see that too often.

David and Sarah meet at a party when they’re 23 years old, played by Preben Hodneland and Isabel Beth Toming. He wants to get married after the first night. She wants to live in an open relationship.

– There’s an ongoing debate about the lack of female directors in Norwegian cinema. Is the term “female director” something you feel comfortable with?

– For me it feels quite natural to say that I’m a female director. I would like to call myself one.

 – What does it mean to you then?

– To take pride in being a woman, perhaps. Besides, I think it’s very important that women tell stories on film. I have a daughter and I want her to have the opportunity to see stories created by other women. They were scarce when I was growing up.

She reflects for a moment, then continues:

– But that doesn’t mean we’re going to just tell stories of women. I think it has more to do with looking at different things, having different perspectives.

– One thing I’ve wondered about is the title of your movie. What kind of beauty do you refer to?

– I think there’s something very moving in the way these two people are trying so hard to love each other. There is absolutely no irony in the title on my part. Their love is not an easy one, but they have a willingness to reach out to each other, to be with each other despite of all that’s destructive and hopeless in their relationship. I think that’s truly beautiful.  

All the Beauty opens in Norway on June 10th. For other countries, check motlys.no

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