Sick of myself
In Sick of Myself, a new debut feature from Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli, we follow the path of a young twenty something year old girl in Oslo, who is discovering and exploiting the power of victimhood in order to get the attention she craves. Seems harmless enough? Not if it backfires. Described as an “unromantic punk-comedy” it has been compared to the works of John Waters (you’ll notice once her face turns into minced meat) and has already been a success in Cannes. We catch up with Borgli to discuss his vision.
AZ: The subject matter of the film is so multi layered. Your protagonist states right at the start that she doesn’t classify herself as a narcissist and we do get some clues as to the reasons for her need for attention. Is she just suffering from a general lack of love?
KB: There isn’t a big point of trauma in that story. I didn’t want to make a movie like that, I didn’t want to point back in history to a specific event in childhood that made her different. She is just being petty and self-centred. Yes, she has divorced parents but that’s what half of the population has – it’s not very special and shouldn’t be an enabler for her behaviour. But I do think that anyone can be born with a mind that is pushing you towards negative impulses. It’s unlucky to lack a filter. I built this character around things that I recognise in myself and in people around me and in our culture. I have a filter that stops me from reacting towards negative impulses and I was interested to see, through fiction, what if there was a character who didn’t have brakes. The competitiveness and the pettiness, the extreme need to be the main character amongst her peers. I think there’s a lot of pressure and many incentives that motivate her. One thing is her psychological construction, placed in a culture and society that rewards marginalisation or trauma or victim narratives, which is good in itself but in the wrong hands it becomes gamified. It becomes a competition, an opportunity. The satire of the movie is looking at someone who is opportunistically playing the game of inclusivity and well-intended platforming of victims.
AZ: It’s interesting to see how society reacts in your film. She is rewarded as a victim as long as she’s still attractive. But once the ugliness takes over, people lose interest.
KB: Exactly, theres a limit to inclusivity. In fashion there’s a limit to how far they can go before it stops working to their benefit. It’s the hypocrisy of the opportunistic, capitalistic motivation for inclusivity. They are not doing charity, they are not willing to spend or lose money to support others, it’s purely piggybacking some activism that can be good for their brand. That’s the motivation. There’s no good heartedness or sacrifice. It’s just about co-opting and using these people to improve their income. That’s what I wanted to sort of poke fun at. Because in our culture, from journalism to the fashion industry, this tendency of when is it helping and when is it using…the borders are blurred and vague. I wanted to highlight that. There’s a contradiction that lends itself to comedy.
AZ: The use of jump cut editing, especially during her dream sequences, plays an important part in the movie. Is this something you planned before shooting?
KB: The idea was that I was going to have an editor on this movie but I also really wanted to shoot on 35mm film, which is very costly so we had to look at where to cut cost. I volunteered to edit the movie for free, that was the only way we could shoot on film. This was my first time editing a feature. I haven’t gone to any school or anything like that, it’s purely intuitive. It feels melodic to me, like music. There is an intuitive sense of rhythm. It’s hard to talk about the editing style because it is purely intuitive.
Eirik Saether as Thomas, Kristine Kujath Thorp as Signe © Oslo Pictures
“The satire of the movie is looking at someone who is opportunistically playing the game of inclusivity and well-intended platforming of victims.”
AZ: The experimental elements of your narrative structure and the graphic design of the title sequence and credits reminded me of [Jean-Luc] Godard. Is this a cinema movement you admire and can relate to?
KB: Very much so. Godard has been an early influence in terms of form. This is one of the most exciting things about Godard movies, it’s the form itself. The way he was inventive with cutting, graphics and layering stuff on top of each other, breaking the fourth wall and bringing it back in, that has been very inspirational. The 60s french wave of cinema was a real experimental phase of cinema, almost like an anomaly in film history. Maybe the cleverness of the cuts and the ideas can get in the way of the audience really connecting with the stories and the characters, so it’s a delicate balance to keep but its definitely something that’s been on my mind creatively.
AZ: Dogme 95 was an extremely successful movement of the late 20th century based in Scandinavia. As a modern director with Norwegian roots, has that movement and its themes influenced your film making process?
KB: No not really, Dogme is this set of rules that tries to strip away the artifice of film making. I was going for something different, shot on 35mm, gorgeously lit… I didn’t wanna strip away stylistic tools away from my toolkit.
AZ: It’s quite a dark theme you’re tackling, Dogme’s films were usually rather sinister and intense….
KB: I’m thinking in the sense of maybe Lars von Trier’s tone and sensibility, there is some overlap there, which stretches outside of these Dogme rules. Regarding the climate and how dark it is, I think this is something specific from Norway, it’s even colder and darker than the other Scandinavian countries… It feels bleak and mythical with deep forests and darkness and cold. To just get through that life of half the year being so miserable, you do start getting this sharper sense of humour. That might be something that is just part of my DNA and that’s part of the tone and sensibility in Scandinavia that makes some of the work out here feel similar and familiar, like there is a cohesive general bleakness.
Kristine Kujath Thorp as Signe © Oslo Pictures
“That’s part of the tone and sensibility in Scandinavia… there is a cohesive general bleakness”
AZ: Was it intentional that the self help group is reminiscent of the one in Fight Club?
KB: Yeah, Fight Club delivered the first real iconisation of that image of people sitting in a circle talking about their problems. It just didn’t feel right for me to have a lead character who is almost subconsciously embodying a victim hood narrative but doesn’t know how to use it, so I wanted to see how many different places she could try to gain anything from her story before ending up in fashion. That’s a new age of sickness as an identity from invisible diseases. That’s another place where I did a lot of research. People who feel like their whole identity is having Lyme disease for example. Invisible illnesses versus a visible one, she has her whole illness in her face and I wanted to look at that difference. Having an identity from sickness is very different when people can see it. That’s why in the support group she is getting called out from the people who wish they were her. According to them, she’s lucky to have her sickness written in her face.
AZ: Even the self help group only accepts a specific form of suffering.
KB: Yes, in the self help group they have a different game up there and she is not playing it right – so she tries something else. In the end she has learned how to play that game and say the right thing in order to get those little wins from the group. She is purely doing this as a career move. She wants an interesting story to tell and she feels uninteresting – she’s a blonde upper middle glass girl in Oslo living a problem free life. We value struggle as authenticity and want to listen to people who have a real story to tell. So she finds a way to create that story for her and she plays different games in different economies. There’s the economy of the fashion industry, the economy of the friend group, the self help group and they all have different rules and different ways of winning and she is navigating all of these things, she tries to be the best victim.
AZ: What’s next for you?
KB: I just shot my first American feature film, its called Dream Scenario in which Nicolas Cage plays the lead. I’m currently editing it and it might come out later in the year. He plays a professor and is a rather normal suburban person who suddenly finds himself at the centre of this strange dream epidemic….
AZ: Sounds like a nudge to Covid?
KB: It was written during the pandemic but instead of being a disease its a metaphysical phenomenon.
Sick of Myself will be released in UK cinemas on 21 April.