Edvard Munch’s best-known work, “The Scream,” is constantly referenced or parodied — even on “The Simpsons.” But the painter himself, who died in 1944, remains a mystery.
“His art is famous, but not the artist. And I wanted to tell a story about the artist. His life is the main focus here,” says director Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, whose “Manch” has been selected as the opening film at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
But he never wanted to make a typical biopic. “Most of them are pretty… boring. Munch has evolved a lot in terms of how he lived, but also his art and his intentions. Another way had to be found.”
With the help of four different screenwriters, each focusing on a different period of his life, he cast four actors to play Munch: Alfred Ecker Strand, Matisse Hermann Nyquist, Ola G. Furuseth and even Ann Krijvol.
“The hardest part was making sure that all these pieces, despite their individual styles, still fit together. I wanted these writers – and the actors – to bring their own voice to the film,” he says.
“It wasn’t a big moment for Munch when he just ‘found himself.’ He’s been finding himself his whole life,” she says.
The film was written by Friedrich Hier, Nyquist, Gyn Cornelia Pedersen and Eivind Sether.
“I read a lot of his diaries,” says Hyer, who focused on the painter’s early years. It “depicts the young stage as one of many people’s lives that have existed throughout time, not as a celebration of an extraordinary talent – that’s what interested me.”
Nyquist, living as an artist in Berlin, was shocked by his “all-absorbing and complete” dedication to work, while Pedersen dug into his stay in a Copenhagen psychiatric clinic.
“I’m a stage-nerd,” she admits. “He was a sensitive person and I could relate to him in many ways. If it was up to me, I’d be on set every day, I’d go to every meeting, but I handled myself. I don’t think it will help the movie,” he laughs.
“It was both concerning and very entertaining to write one part of the script and not know how it would fit in with the others,” added Sether, also praising the editing team.
In his part of the story, the elderly Munch lives on the outskirts of Oslo, devoted to work until the German occupiers literally knock on his door.
Sether said: “What seems important to him is his legacy. He fears that the war will destroy everything he has built. When he died, it was essentially just drawings and paintings, a piano, lots of mouse excrement and twenty pairs of painting gloves.”
“He was one of the most productive artists,” underlines Dahlsbakken. “As he says in the film, he cannot have children or a family because his genes are ‘toxic’. I don’t think that was entirely true. 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 would be able to 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 his story as more “simple.”
“When I first came up with this idea, in 2018, I hadn’t seen it yet. Later, the idea became an inspiration.
But he also had in mind making the stage relatable, especially to younger audiences. That is why, in an interesting twist, he moved his location 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] Thus,” he jokes.
“We have to be respectful and do it with love and courage, but we are telling our story about the stage. No one knows the whole truth – the truth has been dead for 80 years. It made this whole process feel safer 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.