Magazine article American Cinematographer

Something Shot in the State of Denmark: A Day in October

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Something Shot in the State of Denmark: A Day in October

Article excerpt

In Copenhagen, Denmark an unseasonable late September rainstorm lashes a drenched production crew, actors, extras, bystanders, even the poor drayhorses hitched to a 1940s-period Carlsberg Beer wagon. But in the operator's seat of a Tulip Crane, the man framing a shot-whose long green raincoat and Amish-style beard gives him the appearance of a fisherman or a professor of philosophy-is unperturbed. Henning Kristiansen is almost always unperturbed.

Blessed with a cool and composed Scandinavian temperament, the 63-year-old Danish cinematographer is accustomed to his country's distinctly temperamental weather conditions - not to mention tight shooting schedules, no cover sets, available (or unavailable) light and other vagaries of moviemaking in his northern corner of the world.

The award-winning Kristiansen, whose sensitive and atmospheric imagery for the Oscarwinning Babette's Feast brought him international recognition after years of acclaim in his own country, has now turned his talents to A Day In October. Filmed entirely in English-but entirely in Denmark-the love story is set against the backdrop of a unique shining moment in the bloody chaos of World War II: the quietly heroic rescue of the Danish Jews by their Christian countrymen.

American actors D.B. Sweeney, Kelly Wolf, Tovah Feldshuh and Daniel Benzali help to bring this much-mythologized story to realistic screen life, under the direction of Kenneth Madsen, a Danish-born, award-winning commercial maker who recently returned to his native land after ten years in New York. The producers of A Day In October are Just Betzer-who took home the Oscar for Babette's Feast"-and the Frenchborn, L.A.-based Philippe Rivier. New Yorker Damian F. Slattery wrote the original screenplay, which attempts to capture a portrait of what occurred 48 years ago by focusing on the experiences of the Kublitzes, a Danish-Jewish family, and Niels Jensen, a young Resistance fighter who fatefully enters their lives.

Much of the story takes place inside the homey confines of the Kublitz residence. Its interiors were constructed on a soundstage of the Kenneth Madsen-owned and operated Empire Stage in central Copenhagen. This is the center of the family's life, bathed in a fall Scandinavian light tempered by the golden warmth of a traditional Jewish household. And it is here that Kristiansen and Madsen's visual approach to their story is typified by an interplay between light and dark, warm and cool, substance and shadow. This look is at once quintessentially Nordic and yet familiar to anyone who grew up in a loving family, whether in Denmark, Italy or, for that matter, Brooklyn.

"Here in Scandinavia, we work very sincerely with mood," acknowledges Kristiansen in his lightly-accented English. "Maybe it stems from the fact that unlike California, we don't have the sun every day. Maybe we are a bit melancholy, but we try to find an in-between mood that is neither completely dark nor completely light."

Kristiansen has spent much of his career seeking that balance. Working from a strong Danish tradition-which is similar to and yet substantially different than that of its more cinematically famous neighbor of SwedenKristiansen's work first became known to the world with the nowclassic Hunger, directed by Henning Carlsen in 1966. Among those who took notice was Peter Brook, who called on Kristiansen's services when he filmed King Lear (1971) in some of Denmark's more forbidding landscapes. Both movies revealed the cinematographer's strength with distinctive and sharply-etched black and white images.

Carlsen's What About Us, also in black and white, and a color film called Me and Charly brought Kristiansen two Bodil awards, Denmark's equivalent of the Oscar. Babette's Feast also garnered a British Academy Award nomination. A Day In October is Kristiansen's first assignment since Gabriel Axe's celebrated film of the Karen Blixen story. Between jobs, he imparts his knowledge to the next generation of Danish cinematographers at the Danish Film School. …

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