To celebrate the release of Western epic The Salvation, starring Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green and Eric Cantona, this Friday, FilmJuice chatted to Danish Director, Kristian Levring, about the challenges of tackling a traditionally American genre.
Are you a fan of westerns?
Yes, my love of westerns came from my childhood. In Denmark where we grew up, we only had one television channel so my first encounter with films was westerns, and of course at that age the first movies you watch stays very strongly with you. I think every person is attracted to different things, but I think there was something in westerns, a combination of these landscapes but also a certain simplicity in the tales that attracted me. Westerns are moral tales, and the morals are quite easily accessible. I’ve made films which were much more psychological, yet westerns are not deeply psychological at all, they’re more mythical and more simplified and I think that I find that very attractive to work with, or fun, or fresh, you know, or different to what I’ve done before. At the same time I felt like it was a genre that, because I’ve seen so many westerns in my childhood and as a teenager, I knew very well. So it was almost like coming home. Also the fact that westerns have very little dialogue to tell your stories, so you have to be very condensed and direct and that’s a challenge that I’ve found fun to deal with.
How did you and Anders Thomas Jensen go about creating the story?
We wrote four drafts, and no major changes were made … but the main character, Jon coming to the station to pick up his family and the horrible thing that happens in the stagecoach which sets off the events of the film, that was always there. The film is about revenge and the consequences of revenge, which is a very kind of classic western theme, and I wanted very much to do a classic western, the kind of western I loved when I was a kid but of course with a modern take.
What was the atmosphere like on set?
There was a lot of interest from actors when we announced that we were doing a western and although we wrote the part for Mads, he had wanted to do a western for a while. So there was a lot of childish enjoyment, you know, horses, belts, boots, guns, everyone starts walking in a kind of different way, sometimes I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a lot of fun and because the story of course is quite dramatic and quite dark, I think it’s quite important that you have a lighter spirit on set because everything can get so heavy.
What do you think has contributed to the recent resurgence in the Western?
I see westerns as a someone gravely ill getting visited by different doctors every now and again who pump a bit of life into their veins, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I’m not sure it’s really alive in the same sense as the old days of Hollywood.
Some of the greatest westerns ever made were created by European directors. Why do you think these directors have done so well in tackling the genre?
I think if you take the best example, which for me is probably Sergio Leone, he loved western. His earlier work were not great films about Greek Gods. But, you know, he found westerns and the genre was also very much myth and Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, they are all almost like gods in these films. It’s very mythical so I think he was attracted to that side of it, the epic storytelling. I think the other element, which was very much my way in to it, was that the old west was actually where all the European immigrants went, the Poles, the Irish, the Germans, so actually the story of the west is very much also the story of Europe. That was my way to say I have a right to do a film about the west because it’s also my story. It’s a story of Denmark.
The Salvation comes to cinemas April 17th.