INTERVIEW / MICHAEL NOER / KEY HOUSE MIRROR Göteborg & Rotterdam Film Festivals / 2015
No Age Limit on Desire Michael Noer would like to see more true depictions of old age. Both when it is raw and dark and when it’s bubbling over with desire and exuberance, like any other time of life. Noer captures that tension in Key House Mirror, the story of a woman who finds love in her autumn years. By Katrine Hornstrup Yde “I promise, you will never end up in a nursing home.” Michael Noer wrote a note with these words and left it by his grandmother’s phone. When she would call and tell him how afraid she was of ending up like her husband and having her last shred of independence taken away from her, he would say, “Grandma, look down. What does the note say?” Noer wrote another note and filed it away in a desk drawer. What it proposed seemed miles away from the director’s earlier, high-drama fictions: “Make a feature about a nursing home.” Which led to his third feature film, Key House Mirror. Despite Noer’s promise, his grandmother did end up in a home. Meanwhile, his original idea of representing a nursing home as a horror story about the final, hopeless stop before death ended up as a romantic coming-of-old-age film starring Denmark’s greatest living actress, Ghita Nørby. Stripping Away Prejudice “Meeting Ghita I found a friend whose age wasn’t far from my grandmother’s but was someone I could talk with about very different things. She made me realise that we by and large struggle with a lot of the same things throughout our lives,” Noer says today. 38
Noer’s initial fear of nursing homes was transformed into an unprejudiced look at the dramatic phases of old age. Key House Mirror, written with Anders Frithiof August, follows Lily, a lonely 80-year-old woman, who agrees to move into a nursing home with her brain-damaged husband. Inside the inevitably prisonlike walls of the nursing home, her desire and life spark are reawakened as she gets to know her neighbour, a charming Swede, known as The Pilot, played by acclaimed Swedish actor Sven Wollter. “Considering how anxious nursing homes make us in our society, we precisely should not depict them in an anxious way. We should take a deep breath and recognise that a nursing home is a place where people live and struggle to make things work,” Noer says. Shot on Location Key House Mirror was made according to the same principle of authenticity that Noer and his co-director Tobias Lindholm got from the real-life prison where they shot the raw, realistic R (2010) and that Noer later applied to his frenetic gang-life drama Northwest (2013). Accordingly, Key House Mirror was shot in a real nursing home. The residents and staff are real residents and staff. The characters in the film are subject to the same rules and logics that apply at the actual nursing home. Noer’s guiding concept was to make no difference in his approach whether he was depicting an 18-year-old boy or an 80-year-old woman. He didn’t want to pigeonhole by age or genre.
“There’s just this weird cinematic agreement that when we do something about old age, it has to drag.” “In Key House Mirror, we took the interest in a location from R and the pacing from Northwest,” he says. “These are things you don’t associate with films about old age. My experience watching seniors chat over coffee at the nursing home was that they don’t actually talk slow. There’s just this weird cinematic agreement that when we do something about old age, it has to drag.” Old Age Has It All Key House Mirror is also about what happens when your surroundings start questioning your judgment. You lose something when you move into a nursing home. This dark side of old age is something Noer finds missing from typical fictional representations of the elderly. “True depictions of death and old age are rarely seen – even in the wildest arthouse film on the topic. So it was important for me that Lily and the Pilot don’t go out and open a hotel or rob a bank,” he says. “You have to be honest about the world you’re representing – when it’s raw and lonely and feels like a prison and we anxiously have to accept the FILM | Berlin Issue 2015
Danish Film Institute's magazine with interviews and all the basics on Danish films at Berlin 2015