Film in the Focus: Anne Sewitsky’s TOTALLY TRUE LOVE

“Some children are popular, others just don’t bother”

SewitskyOne of the most eagerly awaited titles in this year’s Berlinale was TOTALLY TRUE LOVE by Anne Sewitsky (Norway). The story about first and / or true love strikes the eye for its original viewpoint and its drastic choices, and for a young director’s undeniable talent.

In the opening scene Anne states that “at my age love isn’t so important”. That turns out not to be the whole truth.
Anne Sewitsky: “For some children it is important, others don’t think about it yet. But when the feeling is there, it might be even more intense than for grown-ups, who often have become a bit cynical about love already. Those are very real feelings.”

Anne is a bit of a ‘weirdo’. In a way she makes it look cool to be different.
Sewitsky: “That’s how life is: some children are so popular in class, others just don’t bother about it at all. Anne enjoys being a bit different than others. But when she meets Jorgen, suddenly it becomes very important for her to be noticed and be normal. She was always quite satisfied with whom she was, but now she starts questioning everything.”

She’s kind of a tomboy, but still very feminine.
Sewitsky: “In the book the film is based upon she is even much more of a tomboy. But when casting Maria Annette Tanderød Berglyd, it turned out she had a lot more sensitivities to add to the complexity of her character. Just like in my short ‘Oh My God’ and in HAPPY, HAPPY, the main characters have a strong feminine side. I guess that’s how I tell my stories. In TOTALLY TRUE LOVE the scriptwriter, the DOP, the producer, etc. were all women. That’s how things turned out.”

What did you do to picture your characters so ‘real’?
Sewitsky: “I stimulated them to adjust their roles to bring them closer to their true personality, and combined it with a rather strict way of directing. I didn’t have much experience with young children and wasn’t certain how to approach them. Soon I found out that since they have to work really hard and by the end of the day they have to ‘deliver’, it’s easier to treat them as grown-up actors.”

You even had to work with a large group of children. How was that?
Sewitsky: “You know what to expect when you ask for a bunch of ‘special kids’. They were funny and lively but they could be extremely noisy and had concentration problems. All those children together were hard to keep in control and quite often they made me really angry.”

Anne’s classmate Ellen is supposed to be a ‘perfect princess’. Is it easy to be perfect?
Sewitsky: “The mother puts an awful lot of pressure on her daughter’s shoulders, while Ellen just wants to be like other girls. She’s been taught that looks are the most important in life.”

While Anne’s confidence is undermined by doubts about her appearance.
Sewitsky: “Anne seems a very strong girl but turns out to be just as vulnerable as all the others. All girls share the same insecurities. Anne was never worried about being different, until she comes in a certain situation where she wants to adapt to the others and realizes she doesn’t know how to do it. That is the story of finding your place in a bigger group, in society. She even asks her grandmother: ‘Am I beautiful?’ Grandmother tells her: ‘When growing older, you become more and more like anyone else. But don’t give it all up! Beware to keep a bit of the things alive that make you who you really are’.”

For such a film the casting is crucial and essential.
Sewitsky: “It was a long process that started more than a year before the shooting. But the moment Anne walked into the room, I knew it was her, combining all the required assets: a bit boyish and odd, but also vulnerable and with the right energy.”

You weren’t afraid to mix strong realism with the dreamy sequences telling the story of Helga, a girl from the village who died years ago in a bloodshed love tragedy.
Sewitsky: “That was often discussed. If Helga’s scenes were too concrete, they would conflict with the real story about Anne. Most important for these scenes was their ‘essence’, in a David-Lynch-kind-of-way. I saw ‘Twin Peaks’ when I was 10, too young to understand the story, but I still remember the atmosphere.”

Helga’s story suddenly brings death and disaster into the film.
Sewitsky: “Those scenes strengthen Anne’s feelings throughout the whole story. Not by making it more childish, but by making it more dark and serious. Romantic love stories about life and death is what Anne identifies with. Most scenes were shot with a brand-new Alexa camera – we were the first to use that type of camera. Now Lars von Trier has used them for his new film. But the Helga-scenes were shot on 16 mm and blown up for giving them a totally different look.”

Gert Hermans