Eskil Vogt is a Norwegian screenwriter, producer and film director. Vogt has collaborated on the scripts of fellow Norwegian film director Joachim Trier's films Procter, Reprise, Oslo, August 31st, Louder Than Bombs and the upcoming Thelma, having won the Best Screenplay Amanda Award, Norway's Oscar equivalent, for both Reprise and Louder Than Bombs. His feature film debut Blindpremiered at CPH:PIX, Berlin; Sundance, where it won Best Screenplay; and Istanbul, where it won Best Film.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Eskil Vogt discusses arrogance, our inner lives, the tragedies in Oslo and Utøya and his next project.
FILMATIQUE. One of the (many) remarkable aspects of your film Blind is the character of Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen). She doesn't conform to innumerous stereotypical blind female characters we have seen in films so often. Instead, Ingrid is complex and fascinating— she is intelligent, unpredictable, resilient, independent and in many ways the opposite of her husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen). How did you form these two characters conceptually and how was the process of writing them?
ESKIL VOGT: For the character of the woman that has lost her sight it was important that she not be reduced to just a victim of her handicap. A key to achieving that was casting Ellen in the role. She has a dignity and intelligence that makes it impossible to reduce her to anything. With a lot of the other actresses I tried, you kept thinking "oh, poor blind girl!." And Ellen has some sort of mystery as well, there is something left for you to discover.
I even wanted Ingrid to be a little arrogant. She believes— and I think she might be right— that she's too smart for her husband. She wouldn't have been the easiest person to live with, even before she became blind. But this intelligence and arrogance is also her largest shortcoming. She is used to being fiercly independent, but now she has to accept receiving help to be able to move on. And she finds that really hard.
FLMTQ: Ingrid tells the stories of all the other characters in the film, and paradoxically, the visual aspects of these stories act as points of entry into her personality and psychology. The scene in which Morten and Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt) meet in the movie theater and then talk in the café and bus is subtle, but extreme precise. How did you conceive of such interactions as windows into Ingrid's mind, feelings, and moods?
EV: This film is obviously about more than just blindness. It's about our inner lives. And they are— at least mine is— a very mixed bag of stupid thoughts, intelligent thoughts, bad jokes, and sexual impulses.
The things boiling inside of us are not always clean and elegant. The film is an expression of that. And Ingrid's thoughts and fantasies will often be about sight, the fear of becoming more and more isolated and alone etc. And she will often mix things up and make a mess of it— like she does in the scene you are referencing.
FLMTQ: Cinematographically, the use of natural sources of light and darkness are particularly important in communicating Ingrid’s feelings, as are close-up shots of everyday objects. Can you reflect on your collaboration with the cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis (The Lobster, Dogtooth)— was it something you had in mind early on?
EV: Thimios is so highly regarded mainly because of his eye for striking compositions—Dogtooth is a good example of that. But what made me think he might be right for my film was the way he uses light. He makes it so simple and natural and neutral and white. Even when the weirdest thing happens, as they tend to in the films he has shot, you are more likely to believe in it because of the natural feel of the lighting.
Almost everything in Blind was shot with natural light or practical light sources. One thing laid down the rules for a lot of the way we lit it: a blind person doesn't need electrical light, the apartment gets darker and darker and darker around her and she doesn't see it. And then her husband comes home and turns on the electric light. The ambiance changes completely. That contrast became key. Using natural light always gives you happy accidents as well— the light changes during a take.
One of the plusses of having a blind protagonist is that the spectator becomes much more aware of the sensuousness of everything. When the blind woman's fingers touch something you feel that touch because you know that that is her only way of experiencing that object. And when you see a change of light around her, a change you might not have noticed otherwise, it's almost touching because you know she is not seeing it.
FLMTQ: Individual and collective trauma serve as an important backdrop of the film insofar as all the individual stories circle around remembering and forgetting. How did the terrorist attacks of Oslo and Utøya in July 22, 2011 affect you first as a Norwegian and an artist, and what was the process by which you decided to incorporate them into the script?
EV: I had a break from writing the script when Utøya happened. And when I came back to writing after that I had a hard time picking it up again. Why should I invent some silly story when some real tragedy like this has just occurred?
At the same time I had some frustrations about some of the hypocrisy of the national display of solidarity that happened in the weeks after. So I started to write about that, not really as something to put into the film, but just as a way to start writing again. When I had written it I saw that it might have a place in the film after all— it was such a powerful expression of loneliness and the desire to be seen. Some of the main themes of the film.
FLMTQ: Along with the scripts of your previous shorts, you co-wrote with Joachim Trier's films Reprise (2006), Oslo, August 31 (2011), Louder than Bombs (2015) and Thelma (2017). How was the experience of writing this script alone and knowing it would be your first feature?
EV: I've been writing a lot of films with Joachim and we're very good friends so the collaboration is very organic and intimate. But still, we talk a lot and analyze what we're doing. When I'm writing alone I can be even more intuitive than with Joachim. There were things in the script that I didn’t realize the significance of until very late in the writing, and that was really refreshing.
FLMTQ: Norway has released close to 350 films in the last fifteen years. How difficult is, after the wide acclaim of Blind, for you to get support to make another film? Are you working on any other projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
EV: Ask me again in a year! I've finished a new script and have started the financing. If everything goes well I'll be shooting next summer. It is a film about childhood, but it is also a very scary film. Definitely not for kids.
Interview by Paula Halperin Associate Professor of Cinema Studies and History SUNY Purchase