Anne Sofie Hartmann's Giraffe is exclusively showing August 6 – September 4, 2020 on MUBI as part of the series Festival Focus: Locarno Film Festival.
There are spaces that seem foreign to their surroundings, self-contained, unaffected. Like the ferry harbour in Rødby. A huge area opening up where the highway ends, the mouth of an asphalt river dropping into the sea. A transit space; trucks pass, holiday cars packed to the brim roll aboard, the occasional train lulls slowly into the darkness of the hull. A humming silence of cars and voices behind glass waiting in the summer heat. The ferry grows bigger and bigger on the blue water. Seagulls scream. At nights it transforms, an abandoned space station on a distant moon. The vast parking spaces lit blazingly in neon, the mist hugging the lamp posts. A distant growl hovers underground, vibrations from far away and long ago.
These were the first lines for what was to become Giraffe. Written in August 2014, even before Dara and Lucek, before Agnes and Käthe, there was this place that I knew from years of passing through. A place that set my imagination spinning. I don’t remember a time not being fascinated by places, our physical surroundings, public or private. This one seemed like a non-place, patiently waiting for someone to notice it, the weeds sprouting between the abandoned train tracks, the hotel holding its breath, its sixties furniture pristine. Obstructing the sea view is a glaring led-screen promising unbeatable deals in the on-board shop.
Making a film is a long process, its shape morphs continuously. I started out inspired by the massive scale of a tunnel that’s to be built between Denmark and Germany, immigrant workers in Northern Europe, and mulling over what home actually means. Finding that there is an actual job of recording houses before demolition, was like striking gold: a person tasked with keeping track of things to be lost. I had found a heartbeat, a person who could walk, meet people, fall in love.
I like to research with camera in hand, the images sometimes moving, sometimes still. The act of framing seems to transform the landscapes and spaces, invites them into my imagination. I read lots. I return over and over again to the same places, I wander through the blue nights, I let the heat seep in, drive the roads, the headlights carve out a tunnel in front while the wheat turns from a fragile green to a dry yellow. I spent hours on end watching people on the ferry. I want to wring a story out of the place itself. I begin to write, add layers, try to catch the emotional tone of a scene. I listen to the characters’ thoughts, ask them questions. The stories grow.
The most gratifying and nerve-racking aspect is starting to meet people. Looking for the non-professional actors, I have ideas of the character vaguely outlined in my mind, that transform with every new encounter. We get a sense of each other. Again there is the camera, transforming and opening gaps in reality.
The spectacle of the film oscillates between the reality of faces, bodies, dialects and the fictions retold, imagined or found. I need the invented story to feel free to get close, to respectfully keep behind the boundary of the private. I need the fiction to create the fine bonds that will hold the disparate pieces together, the bonds between which reflections can occur.
The film expands in the process of researching and writing, then materializes in the shoot. The places are revisited, new life flush in. As the buzz of the crew subsides, a silent focus settles while the dust drifts in an abandoned house, a body pushes through the air, the frame and walks through a house in the montage. The fragments are put together, create new meanings and the ephemeral ideas begin to emerge between the cracks. There’s a puzzle being solved, one shape of many possible. A puzzle found in the smallest, most unassuming of places, where a ferry still sails, where the gulls keep shrieking and sometime in the future a tunnel will dig its way underneath the sea.