SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 21, 2012
Based upon Norwegian folklore of creatures called Huldra (or Hulders), Thale utilizes the mythical beings to tell a story about the need for peaceful coexistence with nature. In writer-director Aleksander Nordaas’ world, the Huldra can sense whether you are a friend or foe; they will help you if you are nice, and kill you instantly if you are bad. What really benefits Thale the most is its restrained approach in which aspects of horror, science fiction and fantasy genres are able to seep into, but never take full control over, the dramatic narrative. Like André Øvredal’s The Troll Hunter, Nordaas keeps this tale (mind the pun) grounded firmly in reality, utilizing CG for accents rather than features. Silje Reinåmo, Erlend Nervold and Jon Sigve Skard’s performances are admirably natural, with dialogue and actions that feel perfectly organic. These three characters of this intense chamber piece are portrayed as real people who are worthy of our attention and sympathy; we get to know them well enough that we can understand their innermost fears and desires. (Check out our 8 out of 10 of Thale from SXSW 2012.)
Don Simpson: Where did this story come from?
Aleksander Nordaas: Its our original take on the Huldra. We tried to put her in a more modern framework, but still maintain some of the aspects that people — at least in Norway — know about the Huldra and their powers. The story of Thale is our contribution to the tale of the Huldra.
DS: How long have stories about the Huldra existed?
AN: We don’t really know. There are stories about Huldra from way back. My grandfather and his grandmother have claimed to see Huldra. But the Huldra have existed for as long as there has been folklore in Norway.
DS: So do people actually believe that Huldra exist?
AN: They do. Not as many these days, but hopefully after Thale they will start seeing her again. She was part of everyday life back in the day. She was a natural part of the fauna. Farmers left an open space in the barn for her; so when she passed by she wouldn’t get mad and do crazy stuff to their farm.
DS: What was your goal with this story?
AN: It was important to find a way to include Thale (Silje Reinåmo) in the story with Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold), and tie them all together. It was important also to establish the Huldra as something that really exists. We wanted to portray her as a living creature in reality, and make it logical that she is part of the fauna and also show how she interacts with people when she meets them. Also to show how humanity might take advantage of her if they found her. The Huldra are good to those who are good to her and not good to those who are not good to her. We wanted to have our own approach to the Huldra but also wanted to maintain as many aspects of her as possible so she would still be recognized as Huldra.
DS: I really appreciate that Leo and Elvis are complex and well-developed characters. I can only assume that you spent a lot of time working with Jon and Erlend on creating these characters.
AN: Yes. It was a 50/50 collaboration with them. I know Jon and Erlend really well. We had a lot of fun developing the characters. It was very important to me to make them as original as possible, and not to over-explain their pasts and their problems. Especially in Norwegian cinema, you usually get to learn about the characters in ten minutes. They are clearly defined and that’s how the character is — and there is no excitement in seeing their development.
Bendik Heggen Strønstad: Both actors were involved in the scriptwriting as well, so they were working with Aleksander for a long time. They were an important part of forming the film. We left the script open so it could be formed to fit those two characters. We didn’t want to be too strict about how the script was written.
AN: I knew when we came to set, if something didn’t work in the dialogue, I would ask them how they would say the line in their dialect. In Norway we have a lot of different dialects; they sound really weird if the dialogue is even just slightly off. I based these two characters on these two guys. There wasn’t a casting process. I knew these two guys would have these roles. I wrote these characters for them and used their input on how they would say things or do things. Making the characters believable was very important to us.
Erlend Nervold: Yes, we worked very closely with Aleksander and he guided us. We created our own backgrounds, so we could better understand why our characters were at this place in their lives.
Jon Sigve Skard: It is up to the audience to make their own conclusions, we are just asking the questions. It was a very comfortable process making this film because we know each other so well. It was great fun.
DS: How did you approach the CG aspects of this film in order to retain the strong sense of realism?
AN: We shot the movie without the money to have the CG, so we took a giant leap of faith just shooting this film. We needed to make it as good as possible in order to get someone to decide to invest and pay for the CG costs. I wanted an effective approach to CG, because I feel as though CG works best when it is used very sparingly, only when you need it. Then it is a lot scarier and more effective.
DS: Why did you use CG instead of costumes or puppets?
AN: CG adds a very supernatural effect to it. There is something not human about the way they move and the way they look. If we were to dress up an actor in a costume, they would still move like a human. As for Thale’s tail, we thought about doing that old school, but we quickly realized that a real cow’s tail is not the best partner to have. It is very difficult to work with and it does not smell too good. We used the cow’s tail in two shots, but we didn’t try to make it move.
DS: There is an interesting juxtaposition between the environment of the basement and the forest outside. How did you approach creating those two distinct spaces?
AN: I built the basement myself in my father’s basement. We gathered all kinds of scraps from around the town. It was my first attempt at set design and I had to learn a lot just to get things to look okay. There were a lot of test shoots and rebuilding. It was a very moist basement, so everything kept falling down from the walls as well. It was also a really cramped space and we had five or six people down there for the shoot. We got to know each other really well. The nature is just how it looks. Of course it has been graded and color corrected to look a little bit more magical, but that’s all.
DS: I am curious about your perspective of Hollywood and how Thale — and Norwegian cinema in general — relates to the films that Hollywood is producing.
AN: I think Hollywood has seen that they need to change their way of making films a little bit; find a more exciting approach to making different films. I have been told that the new tendency in Hollywood is to bring in foreign directors on their scripts, just to add a quirky approach. When The Troll Hunter came out, Hollywood started looking towards Norway. Now they are looking even further into Norwegian cinema and I really hope that they just bash open that treasure chest and start making movies about what Norway was to offer. There is a lot of great stuff going on in our folklore that would be really cool to see on screen. I think Hollywood is also learning that you don’t have to overplay everything, you could create more tension with a slow burn.