Director Martin Skovbjerg discusses Copenhagen Does Not Exist

Martin Skovbjerg’s second feature Copenhagen Does Not Exist is a film that we caught earlier in the year and had the opportunity to speak to its two stars Angela Bundalovic and Jonas Holst Schmidt shortly after its premiere in Rotterdam back in February.

Much like when we discovered Beautiful Beings last year we are still patiently waiting for a UK distributor to pick the film up so it can finally get a UK release (Signature Entertainment really should do the honours again please!)

I came into watching this film without any knowledge of what it was about, who was involved, nor had I even seen a trailer for the film. This was perhaps part the reason why I felt the film completely swept me off my feet – I had no idea what to expect at all and I was totally and utterly immersed into this world. It was one of those films where you sit and stare at the credits afterwards still feeling part of the world Martin has created, still processing the performances, and everything else.

To describe the film and it’s story might give too much away – so we’ll keep the synopsis short; Sander (Jonas Holst Schmidt) agrees to be locked in a room by his partner Ida’s (Angela Bundalovic) father in the hope that it will help them figure out where she has disappeared to; but is he telling them the whole story?

I caught up with the film’s director to discuss how the film came to life and discuss the vision Martin had for the film not to mention the incredible cast he had.

Martin has been working with Snowglobe, a Danish film distribution company who has a knack of picking up some absolute classics, for many years – after Sticks and Stones, which was his first feature film, he wondered what was up next. Their response was how good it would be to work with Eskil Vogt, screenwriter companion with Joachim Trier, and director of The Innocents:

He is a magician, like a master of his arts“, the director explains. “I got in touch with him and he said he had this script he had been working on for a long time called Stockholm Doesn’t Exist, and we began to work on that together.”

Snowglobe have been working with Eskil for some time, including co-producing on The Worst Person in the World, so when they suggested that Martin was the man for the job to Eskil he agreed that if they thought that then so did he. Eskil was already familiar with Martin’s previous work and could see how his vision could work in bringing his screenplay to life.

The screenplay itself was based on a Norwegian book called ‘Sander’ but the director confesses he hasn’t got round to reading it yet: “When I read the script the first time I thought it was amazing and I just wanted to work on that, it was filled with so much energy that I really couldn’t focus on anything else. I wanted to focus that energy on the script and not the book – I knew that Eskil had come up with a new take on the story and that was the one I wanted to visualize.”

He jokes about how one day he will read the book, perhaps ten years from now, and frustrated with himself for not reading it.

With a highly regarded screenplay writer behind the scenes the next challenge for Martin was bringing the characters to life – enter Angela Bundalovic and Jonas Holst Schmidt. Angela will be a recognisable face from the likes of Copenhagen Cowboy and The Rain; but Jonas not so much, this is his first feature.

We casted a lot for this film as I felt I really needed someone to bring this character to life and they are certainly not the easiest character to make that happen. He hardly has any particular lines which make him feel like good person but he still has this vibe in the character that there is something special inside his head.”

Martin describes how he needed someone who, when they closed their eyes, you felt like you see the magic going on inside his head and how he is trying to cope with the situation that he finds himself in.

When Jonas did the casting, everyone turned to each other and were like – that’s him, that is the character.”

Jonas gave everything to every scene he was in, he had never done anything like this before which meant that he was so much easier to direct.

There is one scene where the camera is focused on his hand, showing his reaction to a particularly sad moment in the film. You see this tear fall onto his hand and that is how fully immersed Jonas had got into this role – he had fully emodied this character to the extent that he was having natural reactions to some of the scenes.”

When preparing for the role Jonas had started to write poems like the character, to Martin, and trying to get into the mind of his character. Some of the crew suggested whether he should take up some acting lessons given he had never acted before but the director was against the idea; “I wanted this pure human on the screen

Jonas’ performance is part of the film’s catalyst that makes it such a thought-provoking and absorbing piece of film.

Alongside Jonas is Angela Bundalovic who equally put it a phenomenal performance – those that have seen here in Nichols Winding Refn’s Copenhagen Cowboy would have bared witness to the level of skills that she has, but it is our understanding that she had filmed this before Copenhagen Cowboy was shot. She was also involved in The Rain which was one of Netflix’s first Danish dramas they brought to the platform.

My band had done the score to the The Rain and we had become aware of her through that. When we were casting for her role we were really looking for someone to bring this extra energy together with their co-star.”

Angela just had this special presence and vulnerability in her eyes – it felt similar in that way to Jonas’ character that you felt there was so much more going on behind those eyes.

One of the things that I really felt from the script was that these two characters had someone very special inside them but how do you visualize that without them saying the lines. She had that and together they took it to another level.”

The two leads are backed by a brilliant supporting cast with Zlatko Buric (Triangle of Sadness) and Vilmer Trier Brøgger (Where Were You?)

Behind the screen cinematographer Jacob Møller does an absolutely incredible job bringing this lonely world to life. It came as no surprise when he recently won an award for his work on the film.

Both Jacob and Martin have been working together for a long time, so long that they have their own visual language where they found they just look at each other and know whether they have found the right shot or not.

The special thing with Jacob is that there are not many photographers in the world that can be present – where you feel like you are there.”

Without doubt there is this visual identity that is captured throughout the film giving it this very fresh feeling, where your eyes trace the screenshot for the colour, the tone, the shot.

And what about Copenhagen? The capital city of Denmark is brought to life with Jacob and Martin’s lens:

When you live in Copenhagen you don’t look at stuff in the same light – the locals are not so fussed by what a tourist might find beautiful. One thing about this movie is that there are no bicycles and in some find of way I wanted to visualize what we see and love as Copenhagers.”

Martin made sure to shoot in all of his favourite spots around the city, to make the film feel more personal to those from the city watching the film.

When discussing some of the locations and where they were shot, Martin cites Pusher as one of his inspirations: “I wanted to shoot in a way that worked with the city because there is nothing worse than watching a film from your own city and spotting that they aren’t actually shooting in the city, that it is somewhere else.”

In following this concept, Copenhagen Does Not Exist does the opposite to what the title suggests – bringing the city to life in such a realistic way that you genuinely feel that you are there walking the streets with our main protagonists or looking out over the streets from their windows. Being such a fan of Copenhagen myself I have already returned to the city to seek out spots where the film was shot.

“You know there was this story that Eskil had told me – he said he was walking through this big city somewhere and he looked up to this window far far away where he could see two people talking. He started to imagine how there was a story going on there, and then you think about how many other stories are going in a city. You’ll never know what they are but we are all connected in someway”.

It is an interesting concept which will make you turn a little voyeuristic when you next go for a walk out in a city.

Despite watching Copenhagen Does Not Exist at the beginning of the year the film still resonates so much with us and hasn’t left our minds. The combination of the cast, screenplay, and crew have brought it together and it comes as no surprise that since its release in Denmark Martin still gets text saying: “I’m still thinking about this movie” – so we hope it won’t be long until the film can get stuck in your conscience too.

Put this on your watchlist – don’t watch the trailer – and we hope we can share news with you on the film’s further release soon.

Leave a Reply