In conversation with Danish director Trine Piil about her movie thriller ‘Nothing’ (Intet).

When I call to speak to Trine she is adjusting from the heat of Austin, Texas, back to an autumnal Denmark – quite a difference when it comes to the temperature. That wasn’t the only difference Trine experienced while premiering her new film Nothing at Fantastic Fest, she explains:

“It is very different to the European kind of red carpet, sipping champagne and wearing big dresses kind of festival – it’s very sort of down to earth and very much with the focus on the good story and the good film. It was super nice with a great mix of audiences and filmmakers whilst also having some top professionals involved as well.”

The festival had a fantastic line-up which included some great Nordic releases which included Triangle of Sadness, Holy Spider, Sick of Me, Attachment, and Christensen’s film Nothing. Aside from the Nordic presence there were a couple of films that caught Trine’s eye.

“Park Chan-Wook’s Decision to Leave was just beautiful – that one has stayed with me. Then also the new one from Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All”

We are in dangerous territory here and could very easily slip into an in-depth conversation of who is going to go big at the Academy Awards and I manage to steer the conversation back to Trine’s latest film.

Danish director Trine Piil Christensen

With Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil upsetting everyone in its wake last month when it was released on Shudder, Danish horror fans can rejoice in another movie to unsettle them.

Nothing (Intet) is a coming of age thriller based on a Danish best-selling book. A group of young school kids confront the meaningless of life with a game that sees them leave behind the innocence of childhood. The film starts in such a way that makes you question whether it has the balls to go to a dark side – then it goes there and once again you find yourself wondering whether Denmark really is the happiest nation based off the back of these recent offerings.

The film wasn’t an easy journey for Trine and it all started when she couldn’t get to sleep one night:

I have family in the UK and I went and spent a Christmas there some years ago and I had forgotten my book and I can’t sleep without having read.

So I saw this book on my nephew’s bookshelf and I took it because I recognised the name. Janne (the author of Nothing) and I have a mutual friend. I then read it throughout the night, I didn’t stop and I was completely mesmerized by the book.

I really love it when you have a strong plot and a strong undercurrent at the same time

After returning to Denmark after the Christmas break, Trine went about seeing whether it was possible to get the rights for the novel but found they were already taken. It seemed that her idea of adapting the film was thwarted at the first hurdle until the following summer where she got to meet the author at a friend’s apartment in New York.

It turned out that the original bid had expired and the rights were back up for the taking – there were already three producers circling the rights but in the end they went with Trine:

“She made a choice to grant the option to a creative – to a writer director – instead of to a producer, thinking that I would be more stubborn. And she was right, because it has taken eight years to make this film, which is a long time”.

It seemed that despite the novel being one of the most successful in Denmark, the Danish Film Institute didn’t seem interested to support the project. When it became clear to Trine that no one was going to pick the film up she went to Germany where she worked with one of the producers, Janine Jackowski, behind the excellent Toni Erdman.

“She’s is a great producer and an incredibly nice person as well. So I developed the project with her and then we had meetings with Netflix in 2020 at Berlinale, and we were all ready get things moving forward”

You can already guess what happened next just by knowing the year…

“Coronavirus shut everything down at that moment, no productions, no nothing, and our rights were expiring at the end of 2020. So we ended up making the film on a shoestring budget. We shot over the summer of 2020, which was nice in the sense that, you know, all the kids were available because none of them went on summer holidays”.

And finally Trine won the battle – getting the film made a whole eight years later, despite all the challenges that were thrown at her.

The film’s subject matter does descend down a dark path and I was curious to know how that was handled with such a young cast – one that includes Vivelill Søgaard Holm who was last seen in Netflix’s Elves – playing one of lead characters Agnes.

“I had a lead in mind but by the time the film was being made she was too old, then I saw Vivelill in a film called Resin and thought that she could play Agnes.

For the rest of the cast I had a a great contact who gave me access to a number of kids I could cast, I had around 350 to choose from, and it all went from there”.

Trine explains how important it was to have the characters stick out in the short run time of the film (88 minutes) and therefore it was essential to get the right cast – help came in the shape of Seamus McNally who also ended up co-directing the film with Trine.

“He is a very, very good coach and he supports the kids all the way along so that they know where the next line comes from, where they might be challenged – I think a lot of the times when we see these la la la kids, it’s because they don’t get any help”

The cast very quickly became a group of friends despite not knowing each other. Trine believes that the tough subject matter depicted in the film brought them together and brought about some pretty tough conversations. They are still all friends today and even visit the director when she is around.

When the film premiered at Fantastic Fest it wasn’t to the real target audience but an older audience and herein lies one of the challenges that Trine faces with distributors:

“It is super difficult for the distributors to know where to put it and how to go about it.

I talked to some American colleagues after a screening of the film saying and they said: ‘Wow, we would never be able to do anything like this in the States because it’s kids being violent to each other”.

Trine had people email her to share how they never knew they had that many emotions until seeing Nothing – which was great feedback to receive from the film.

The Danish trailer will give you a good idea of what to expect!

Interview by Alex Minnis