Torill Kove completes her autobiographical trilogy about growing up in Norway with Me and My Moulton, the brightest and most humorous of her shorts. It’s about three sisters growing up with unconventional parents in the ’60s and the stir they cause when asking for a Moulton bike. This marks Kove’s third Oscar nomination, of course, beginning with her debut, My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirt, and following up with the Academy Award for The Danish Poet. Me and My Moulton also marks the 73rd Oscar nom for the NFB, which co-produced with Mikrofilm of Norway.
Bill Desowitz: This is the most personal film for you about your childhood. Let’s begin with the inspiration.
Torill Kove: I think I just wanted to do an homage to my parents. [Her father died 20 years ago and her mother this past fall.] I think when I started this my mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she was kind of losing herself and becoming someone else and it was more difficult to connect with the mother we had had before. And I wanted to do something close and personal with my family, but at the same time saying something about childhood that’s quite universal.
BD: As we get older, we can reflect on childhood and better understand our parents.
TK: Exactly. And I think that’s why when people ask me if I made this for children and I have to say no, this is not something that I necessarily think is that accessible to children. I think kids will get this story as being about something that you can’t get but they are not going to understand the subtext, which has to do with thoughts that you feel guilty about thinking bad things about the people you love.
BD: Were you shy growing up as the middle sister?
TK: Yes and my older sister was very outgoing and I just couldn’t believe it. She’s still very chatty and makes friends really easily.
BD: What were the challenges for you with Moulton?
TK: One of the challenges was how to balance the humor with the darker sides of it. There was unfortunately some animation that ended up getting cut because I thought it was too sad and too dark. And there were some humorous things that got cut because they were too silly.
BD: Tipped the balance too far in either direction.
TK: Yeah, and also a challenge with the voice-over actually. I wanted someone who sounded like she was a reserved child. And that was trick too. The first round it really didn’t work that well. It made it blah. So there was a struggle to get the voice the way I wanted it to be. Furtunately, the actress who worked on this was amazing. And she also did the Norwegian version. She came in for a read through and was so good that I actually started crying. I didn’t believe that somebody I didn’t even know could come in and interpret this exactly as I had wanted it.
Another thing that was difficult that I can discuss now that the film is out is the story of what happens to the family that lives downstairs. That family is based on a family that did live downstairs from us. But what did actually happen to those people was that the father didn’t pack up and leave, he died. And that was included in the original version of my story, but I felt increasingly bad about including it like that. I’m still in touch with my friend from downstairs and I thought I can’t just use something that was so tragic and stick it in a story that’s really about me and not about them. I thought the important thing here isn’t that he died but that there’s a big change downstairs. So I had him leave and let people decide what the reason for that was without getting into the details. After the film was made I got in touch with my friend and I think she was OK with it and we agreed to add a little note at the end that some events are fiction.
BD: What has been the impact of making this short for you?
TK: I think that’s difficult to say looking back as an adult on my childhood. I had a mother who was really ahead of her time, full-time job in a profession that was totally male dominated. And here I am, the middle daughter who just wishes she’d stay home and make me lunch. And I find that really complicated. That is a voice that we don’t here anymore from anybody. It’s a forbidden territory to entertain the idea that some kids would like their mom to be home. I realize this in my aspirations for what kind of mother I want to be [for my 12-year-old daughter].
BD: Was it fun working with such a bright palette?
TK: Oh, it was so much fun — I loved it. To be able to reach for those pinks and oranges and bright reds — clean, clear colors.
BD: What were some of the trickier moments?
TK: A scene that I thought was difficult to get right was the one where she’s looking up at the mobile. Maybe I find it difficult because it’s the most substantive part of the film for me. She’s looking up at the mobile and you get close to the mobile and zoom in on the window where the mother downstairs is watering the plants. And it became difficult to do because of a misunderstanding between me and my assistant. And instead of doing it over again we just tried to work on fixing it with what we already had. It was fine in the end. I think also the shot a the very end when the two girls are on the swings and one of them jumps off and walks away. That was also tricky because that was such a long scene. And I thought, “My God, there’s nothing going on here except talk.” And am I going to hold everyone’s attention?
BD: What are you particularly fond of?
TK: well, I do love the scene where the kids are falling off the chairs. It’s just kind of slapstick fun. And I like the scene where the mom just takes the gun from the dad and takes care of things. And when she handles the Russians, I like that. I also do quite like the moment where the dad goes on and on about how great this bike is because you can stick it in the car and the sisters find that bizarre.