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Oscar-Winning Bille August Discusses 'The Kiss' | CinemaWorld Asia

Oscar-Winning Bille August Discusses 'The Kiss' | CinemaWorld Asia

“Compassion, Pity And Love…”:

Like many of CinemaWorld’s audiences, complex love stories compel Oscar and double Palme d’Or winning Danish director, Bille August.

That’s why, CinemaWorld is celebrating love this Valentine’s Day with an exclusive interview with August on his film The Kiss.

The film’s startlingly gripping yet nuanced portrayal of romance between its protagonists, Anton (Esben Smed, Held For Ransom and A Fortunate Man) and Edith (Clara Rosager, The Rain and Before The Frost), reveals the complexities of love. Set in the scenic countryside of Denmark, The Kiss tells a love story between a young cavalry officer and a wealthy baron’s handicapped daughter – one wrought by social influences, expectations and unrelenting personal morals.

Just like his earlier films, The Best Intentions and A Fortunate Man, The Kiss embraces the moral flaws in its characters and the ugliness of love – themes on human complexity that August is often drawn to in his films. Far from a fairytale love story, it is the authenticity of the couple’s whirlwind romance that draws us in – particularly, Edith’s fiery passion and Anton’s overwhelming compassion and his desperate restraint.

“... storytelling is not complicated,” but there “has to be complexity [in] a story”.

In our interview with August, he lets us in on his inspiration behind The Kiss, and his thoughts on love and morality. For him, “storytelling is not complicated,” but there “has to be complexity [in] a story”. It is the nuances in Anton’s and Edith’s love story that makes The Kiss a  story worth telling. In the film, class, honour, pride and compassion are prevalent issues that plague Anton and Edith’s relationship, which August finds “very very important”. He explains that the film poses a moral conundrum for the audience about love, and questions whether “[pity] leads to love or can love “lead to [pity]”.

“The main antagonist of the film is compassion… in excess.” 

To him, Anton is not the antagonist, rather he has “too much compassion” for Edith and he merely “wants to help her”. In fact, August points out, “it's not only him, there are four people – four nice people” that are excessively compassionate towards Edith. He describes the narrative as “upside down” because compassion, though a seemingly positive trait, has become the film’s main antagonist.

He added that he does not perceive Edith’s physical disability as an obstacle either. Instead, she is a driven and at times headstrong character who desires independence and respect, and Rosager performs Edith’s role spectacularly. 

The Kiss and Gen-Zs

When asked about the decision to locate Anton and Edith in the early 20th century rather than a modern day setting, August stresses that he and his team “tried and tried but it just didn't work”. However, he notes that Edith’s handicap can be translated into today’s world, as The Kiss strives to highlight unspoken stories of those marginalised in society. Referring to the interconnectedness of social media, August laments, “There's a lot of young people who maybe feel a little bit insecure that are excluded from all that and… feel that they are abandoned, that they don't belong in this world and… that's a big problem for… young people.” Through Edith, the anxieties of the outcast and the discrimination she faces are illuminated, which resonates with many unheard voices amongst today’s youths.

Romance “is endless

Agreeing that though the issues of honour and class divide may not be as prevalent today, August believes making movies is “all about engaging an audience”. As an avid reader himself, he describes the necessary ability of stories – films and novels – to suspend one’s disbelief, to make fiction real and relatable. Hence, the generational differences between the characters in 1913 and contemporary audiences did not stump him. “I love stories and this theme (romance) is endless,” August exclaims. Romance and its complexities continue to endure through time’s passing – and The Kiss is but one of these “great love stories”.

About his process of adapting novels into films, (The Kiss is a loose adaptation of Stephan Zweig’s Beware of Pity), August relies on his instincts. “[I]t's really intuition… I don't have any rules that I follow but…it cannot only be storytelling. There needs to be complexity, or a very clear message… otherwise it doesn't work for me.” 

“If a film works, it works.”

“You have to forget about the novel and work, keep working on the screenplay and make it cinematically interesting. Because very often you see novels turned into films where it just becomes illustrated literature and it never works. But for me, it doesn't really matter if a film is based on a written script or if it's based on a novel. It doesn't matter. Some of the great directors like Stanley Kubrick, a lot of them and some of the greatest films ever made are based on literature.”

“So it really, really doesn't matter,” he states simply. “If a film works, it works.”

August concludes that he hopes the audience think about “the complexity of love” after watching The Kiss, and reflect on “compassion, [pity] and love.”

Though a prowess at the art of story-telling (as shown by his extensive oeuvre), August cannot pick his favourite romance film. “[T]here are many, many great love stories… I mean, I don't know. I can't answer that question.” 

Well, our team at CinemaWorld has our answer – The Kiss may just be one of our favourite love stories ever told.

Watch our full interview with the award-winning Danish director of The Kiss, Bille August, now on CinemaWorld’s Youtube channel.

The Kiss will be premiering on CinemaWorld at 9 P.M SIN, 4 February 2024. You can also catch it on CinemaWorld On Demand from 1 February 2024. SUBSCRIBE to CinemaWorld NOW to catch The Kiss this Valentine’s Day with your loved ones.

Be the first in line for the exclusive Asian premieres of award-winning international films and box-office hits, join our community of film lovers today!

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