Rotterdam premiere confronts ‘The Scream’ creator Edvard Munch: ‘His art is famous, but not the artist’

Edvard Munch’s best-known work, “The Scream,” has been endlessly referenced or parodied, including on “The Simpsons.” But the painter himself, who died in 1944, remains an enigma.

“His art is famous, but not the artist. And he wanted to tell a story about the artist. His life is the main focus here, ”says director Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, whose“ Munch ”has been selected as the opening film at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

However, he never intended to make a typical biopic. “Most of them are pretty… boring. Munch evolved a lot, in terms of his way of life, but also his art and his motives. It was necessary to find another way”.

With the help of four different screenwriters, each focusing on a different period of his life, he cast four actors as Munch: Alfred Ekker Strande, Mattis Herman Nyquist, Ola G. Furuseth, and even Anne Krigsvoll.

“The hardest part was making sure that all of these parts, despite their distinctive styles, still fit together. I wanted these writers – and actors – to bring their own voice to the film,” she says.

“Munch didn’t have this big moment where he just ‘found himself.’ He was finding himself his whole life,” he says.

The film’s writers were Fredrik Høyer, Nyquist, Gine Cornelia Pedersen and Eivind Sæther.

“I read a lot of his diaries,” says Høyer, who focused on the painter’s early years. He portrays “the young Munch as one of the multitudes of human lives that have existed over time, not as the celebration of some exceptional genius, that’s what interested me.”

Nyquist, who took over the artist’s life in Berlin, was stunned by his “total and all-consuming” dedication to the work, while Pedersen delved into his stay in a psychiatric clinic in Copenhagen.

“I’m a Munch nerd,” she admits. “He was such a sensitive person and I could relate to him in so many ways. If it was up to me, I would have been on the set every day, I would have gone to all the meetings, but I managed to restrain myself. I don’t think it would have helped the movie,” she laughs.

“Writing one part of the script and not knowing how it would fit with the others was worrying and very entertaining,” adds Sæther, who also praises the editing team.

In his part of the story, the elderly Munch lives on the outskirts of Oslo, dedicated to work until the German occupiers literally knock on his door.

Says Sæther: “All he seems to care about is his legacy. He fears that the war will destroy everything he has built. When he died, it was basically just paints and paints, a piano, piles of mouse droppings, and twenty-odd pairs of painting gloves.”

“He was one of the most productive artists of all time”, emphasizes Dahlsbakken. “As he says in the movie, he can’t have children or a family because his genes are ‘toxic.’ I don’t think it was the whole truth. I guess he had to explain to himself why he chose to spend his whole life making art. It was a big commitment and not many people would do it today.”

While Dahlsbakken’s approach echoes Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” with six actors, including Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett, playing Bob Dylan, he sees their story as more “simple,” he says.

“When I first came up with this idea, in 2018, I hadn’t seen it yet. Later, the concept of her became an inspiration.”

But he also had in mind making Munch relatable, especially for a younger audience. So, in an interesting twist, he transferred his time in Berlin to contemporary times.

“I talked to my friends about it: ‘How would it feel to meet Munch today, in 2023?’ Also, it is much cheaper. [to shoot] this way,” he jokes.

“We had to be respectful and do it with love and courage, but we are telling our story about Munch. There is no one who knows the whole truth, the truth has been dead for 80 years. He made this whole process feel safe, in a way. And playful.

“Munch” was produced by The Film Company and backed by Viaplay, with New York-based Juno Films handling North American distribution rights.

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