Léa Seydoux, Matthias Schoenaerts And Thomas Vinterberg Discuss Kursk

While we may not know exactly what happened on August 12, 2000 when a Russian submarine suffered an explosion during a training exercise that sank the vessel and killed all 118 personnel on board, there are plenty of theories. One such theory is put on display in the form of the film Kursk. The film stars Léa Seydoux and Matthias Schoenaerts and is directed by Thomas Vinterberg. We had a chance to talk to all three during TIFF 2018, and they gave us some insight into not only filming the movie, but what they think of the story as well.

One of the problems with filming something where all the facts aren’t known, is having to decide what fictions should be shown and when the truth should be stretched. Director Thomas Vinterberg told us that “every time, every dramatic element, every line, we had that conversation. Obviously, nobody really knows what happened. We can guess, there are like four different books that offer four different theories about what happened, but it was a constant balance between reality and fiction. It was a constant effort to come as close to reality as possible.”

Actor Matthias Schoenarts was always conscious that what they were doing was based on a true story. “Here we have a very dramatic event, a very dramatic tragedy, that was highly mediacized that everybody knows about. When I read the script, I was like ‘wow, this is a very interesting story to tell.’ ” Schoenarts was the one who brought the script to the eventual director as well. “Because it was based on true events it has a big social/political dimension,” he said. “It’s a survival thriller. It’s a film about hope, family, loss, it’s man vs system. It’s about injustice, it’s about indifference. It’s about hypocrisy. I was like which director can bring the scope that the film obviously has, as a survival thriller, but still keep it intimate enough that we can relate and attach ourselves to the emotional journey of these characters. And I thought Thomas was the guy to do it.”

Actress Léa Seydoux wasn’t attached to the project in the beginning, but when Vinterberg brought it to her she was intrigued by it. “I met Thomas and I really liked him,” she said. “I read the script and was really touched by the story that I didn’t know before. And I wanted to be part of this film, and I liked the fact that he gives a voice to the people that were destroyed. The fact that we knew the story as a political matter, and here we have the more human, humanized story that I think is important. People who watch the film can understand what happened from those people’s perspective.” Seydoux really connected to her character too, stating that “I think that she represents the frustrations and the anger. I think she is like a spectator, like us watching the film. It shows how they were locked away, the wives and the family. You know they were like lied to. In a way I think the film is those people’s voice. They were completely unable to do anything. The only thing we could do was the film.”

In a lot of ways the film was more about the women left behind, then the people trapped in the submarine. After all, theirs was the story we knew the truth about. Vinterberg said “My honest reaction is that we were trying to approach the truth as much as possible. And these women showed the bravery of doing a riot against the authorities on open camera. And I found that very very heartbreaking and very strong. I didn’t do that to satisfy a gender debate, I did it because it’s what happened. This was a very important part of the story.” He also knew he wanted Seydoux to be part of the film.  “She radiates something super truthful and warm,” he said. “She’s always been an actress I’ve wanted to work with. She’s something else. She’s generous in her way of offering something super fragile. It’s not private, but it’s close to something personal. And I find that moving. Not only in this film, but when I watch her on the screen there is something extra.”

While the women were above ground, on land, the men actors who played the personnel trapped in the submarine had a much harder time with their acting. “It was tough for the actors they were in the water all the time,” Vinterberg said. “12 hours all day, and it was baking warm. It was 42 degrees, because the water had to stay warm, so the room was 42 degrees as well. And they had to act that they were freezing for a month.”Schoenarts agreed, stating “It wasn’t the most comfortable, but it was helpful to get to the sense of what the real crew members went through.”

In the end, a compelling film was made that the team were happy with. Seydoux called it a “humanized political subject,” while Vinterberg said he “found an opportunity to elevate the project from being a political thriller into something grander about humanity about running out of time about life and death.” He said that “less and less people confront themselves with the fact that there is an end date. It’s become the obligation of the literature and film world to deal with these issues.” As for Schoenarts, he said “you look for things that are gripping. I like movies that slap me in the face, or pull my heart out, or fascinate me or that make me laugh, that trigger me, that don’t leave me indifferent. I don’t like stuff that leaves me indifferent. You don’t want to be a part of things that leave people indifferent. So when I read the script I was like here’s something, here’s material that can lead to real powerful cinema.” And if there is one thing you can take away after seeing Kursk, is that you definitely don’t feel indifferent afterwards.

Read our review of Kursk here: Kursk Is An Interesting Look At The 2000 Russian Submarine Disaster

By: Roderick Thedorff

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