Interview with Charlotte Sachs Bostrup (the KARLA trilogy)

“We have to trick the boys”

“I’m not fed up with Karla. But her story is told now; I’m done with her.” While KARLA & JONAS is touring the festivals, director Charlotte Sachs Bostrup looks back upon the Karla trilogy.


One of the Karla films’ strongest trumps is their true and honest depiction of everyday life in a modern family.

Charlotte Sachs Bostrup: “The films are based upon the books by Renée Toft Simonsen. She’s very much grounded in life: she has children, went through a divorce, remarried and lives in a compound family. She knows how difficult it is to combine a career with being a mother.
Renée Toft Simonsen is a fascinating woman. As an eighties supermodel she stood on the cover of every magazine: Vogue, Elle… But she got bored with that kind of life and wanted to prove she had more than beauty to offer. She studied psychology and is now a famous author with a clear view on the emotional life of children.”


Your films look so realistic that the audience is usually willing to believe all the actors are really one big family.

Sachs Bostrup: “Don’t worry: they’re not. I try to create an atmosphere on the set in which the actors feel safe. Acting is ‘sharing what lives inside of you’ and that you can only do in a safe and supportive environment. For main actress Elena Arndt-Jensen I tried to create the space in which she could unfold herself and she filled up that space in an amazing way.”


In KARLA & JONAS it’s again Karla who’s the driving force behind the quest for Jonas’ mum.

Sachs Bostrup: “Because Jonas is afraid. His mother gave him away as a child. Now he’s afraid she’ll refuse him once more.”


Sorry to say but… the KARLA films are girls’ movies. How would you promote them with boys?

Sachs Bostrup: “These films show how girls really are. But we have to keep that a secret to the boys. We have to trick them. We’d better tell them that KARLA & KATRINE is about a boy who is falsely accused and now tries to clear his name with the help of friends. And KARLA & JONAS is a thrilling quest for a missing family member.”


Research brought up that a title like KARLA & JONAS (boys + girls names) has the second least appeal on a young audience. Guess what titles have the least appeal?

Sachs Bostrup: “Two girls’ names. Isn’t that a terribly tendency in society? Emotions are taboo for boys and they themselves are the worst victims of that. I feel pity for them: they get excluded from a very important competence. Being aware of your emotions is essential for having a successful social life. I don’t worry about the girls; they’ll survive. In 3 generations time they’ll manage to do all things that a man can do. But men still can only do ‘boyish’ things. That’s an important symptom that I mention in the movie.”


Very delicately you show the barrier between Karla and Katrine: the uncomfortable, unaccustomed silences. How did you explain those subtle details to the young actors?

Sachs Bostrup: “Scène by scène. For instance: when Karla decides to choose the same ice cream as Katrine, or when she gives Katrine a teddy bear as a present, while Katrine is already one step further ahead… She already waved her teddy bears goodbye. Those details I discussed with the actors one at the time and they picked it up very well.”


The film is also a picture the grown-ups. For instance, Karla’s stepfather who evolves throughout the trilogy from a rather dull figure to a devoted father figure.

Sachs Bostrup: “Leif is like many men: too occupied by his job to keep all his promises. But that’s not the whole truth. He is also a kind man who loves to be with his family. Leif sometimes acts a bit childish; he’s begging for attention like a 5 year old. But he’s doing all he can to please the children… even playing ‘Guitar Hero’.”


Is Dolly in KARLA & KATRINE the ultimate egocentric adult?

Sachs Bostrup: “No, Dolly mirrors the relation between Karla and Katrine on an adult level. Mum and Dolly have been best friends since their childhood. Friendship is a creation; people decide to become friends. Especially women have at least one friend for life. Maybe other people consider her as dull or grumpy, but you decide that she’ll be your friend and you open your heart for her, you comfort each other and enjoy each other’s successes.”


You always pick your colours very carefully. For instance in KARLA’S WORLD you avoided every bit of red. The colour pallet in KARLA AND KATRINE is totally different but again very well thought over.

Sachs Bostrup: “I can puzzle my head off for hours about colour coordination. The colour pallet in KARLA AND KATRINE is red and green. Green is the colour of nature. While KARLA’S WORLD was a city film, KARLA AND KATRINE takes you to the countryside. And red is the colour of passion, love and blood. The evolution from red to green is also the natural ripening process for fruit, just like the ripening process of the two girls.
I look at every scène like a painter looks at his paintings. I search in every image for a beautiful colour pallet that is also somehow meaningful. But in KARLA & JONAS we didn’t care about colour coordination. That film wants to capture all contrasts of the big city, depicting the children’s journey in an excessive colour pallet.”


You have a daughter. Do you recognize the mother-daughter conflict in your films?

Sachs Bostrup: “Of course. Ellen Hillingsø (playing Karla’s mother) has children too. It’s not easy to be intensively loved and hated in one and the same minute. A caring mother can’t be a 100 % warm and loving creature all the time. We’re only human. My daughter was involved in the film as script editor: she advised me about the language and behaviour of pre-teens.”


You’re finished with Karla now?

Sachs Bostrup: “It was clear from the start that I wanted to make 3 films about the same issues: KARLA’S WORLD is about family, KARLA & KATRINE about friendship and KARLA & JONAS is about first love. The box with the 3 DVDs is out now in Denmark. That makes the project complete. Now it’s time for something else. My next film will be for an adult audience and deals with a political and scientific theme.” (GH)

For ECFA Journal, December 2010