Benedikt Erlingsson interview

Benedikt Erlingsson interview by the Spanish Catalan writer Jordi Pujolá, with the support of Icelandic Mountain Guides and RIFF Reykjavik International Film Festival

This article is part of my project La Contra Islandia that puts Icelandic and Spanish cultures in contact

Read the full article in Spanish

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6th Nov 18

I love movies by Benedikt Erlingsson because their connection to Icelandic nature and traditions and his concern for climate change and environmental issues

Interview Benedikt Erlingsson Konan fer í stríð
Interview Benedikt Erlingsson Icelandic Ophelia

Benedikt Erlingsson interview

Mr. Benedikt Erlingsson (May 1969) is a talented Icelandic film director, script and play writer and actor

Benedikt Erlingsson and Jordi Pujolá in Reykjavik
Benedikt Erlingsson interviewed by Jordi Pujolá

Biography of Benedikt Erlingsson (IMDb)

Is one of the most successful stage directors of the last decade in Iceland. He has received several Grima awards (Icelandic theatre awards) for his work as a director, author and actor, and is well known in his country for having acted in the TV series, Fostbrædur (Blood Brothers), winner of numerous Edda awards (Icelandic film and TV awards). He has also acted in a number of films, such as Lars von Trier’s The Boss of It All. He has directed two short films, Thanks (2007) and The Nail (2008)

Interview Benedikt Erlingsson 2 Icelandic actors in Cannes
Interview Benedikt Erlingsson in Cannes with Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir

He won the award to the Best New Director in Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián (2013) with his first movie Of horses of Men

“The Concha is the most important award for me (even more than an Oscar) because it´s the first one I got as a film director”

By the way, my favourite actor (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) plays in this movie

Woman at War

His second movie, Woman at War, got the Nordic Council Film Prize and was the candidate of Iceland to the Oscars, even though he never had high expectations on that

Woman at war is an amazing film with an environmental message, great actors (especially Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) and dramatic landscape

Woman at War Interview Benedikt Erlingsson
Interview Benedikt Erlingsson Woman at war

It is released in Spain on Friday 8th March (La mujer de la montaña)

What do you think of the Oscars?

“The Oscars are like American football, you need muscle power and money behind you”

The director and writer Börkur Gunnarsson said something similar when I interviewed him

A family of storytellers

Benedikt Erlingsson invited me to his warm house in one of the furthest suburbs of Reykjavik, near the mountain Úlfarsfell (mountain of wolves), and introduced me to his lovely family; his wife is a famous actress as well (Charlotte Bøving)

Benedikt Erlingsson and the Catalan writer Jordi Pujolá
Benedikt Erlingsson very nice meeting

The father of Benedikt Erlingsson was an actor and his mother a theatre director and storyteller who helped him with his first script

When talking to Benedikt, his face is full of serenity, he keeps your attention like a magician, you almost can see the anecdotes he is describing and never loses the thread

Of horses and men

Of horses and men is based on real facts. For example, the scene where a farmer goes swimming with the horse to a an anchored foreign ship to buy alcohol (no alcohol in Iceland at that time) is really shocking

Man swimming with a horse in Iceland
Interview Benedikt Erlingsson swimming with a horse

I strongly recommend Of horses and men because it sticks in your mind for a long time, the details work progressively in your brain

Obsessed by Icelandic Horses

“My film is about brutality, the abuse of horses. However, no horse suffer any harm. The people involved in the shooting were all horse lovers and horse owners”

“I became obsessed by horses when I was 12 years old

Sending teenagers to work in a farm in summer (3 months) was a nice tradition in Iceland

I went 3 times to the same place in the North East, but it was a therapy instead of a job

I recommend the novel The Swan by Guðbergur Bersson

Interview Benedikt Erlingsson horse lover in Iceland
Interview Benedikt Erlingsson Of Horses and Men

I was very introduced in the horse culture and then I came out as a horse person with a horse and I have 5 horses today”

Owning horses looks like an expensive hobby

“Yes, my friends in Europe think I am an aristocrat (laughs)

Nevertheless, horses are not expensive in Iceland, it´s a common people sport”

Do Icelanders eat meat horse?

“There is not stigma about eating horse meat in Iceland, it´s related to the Pagan religion. Our ancestors slaughtered good horses as well because they thought they needed a horse after life

And before the Norwegians brought the sheep to Iceland there was not to much to eat here, so the horses helped us to survive

In conclusion, the horse culture is the strongest remaining from the settlement”

InBenedikt Erlingsson director and Jordi Pujola writer
Interview Benedikt Erlingsson at his house in Mosfellsbær

We have only good horses because we eat the bad ones

Why Icelandic horses have so excellent reputation?

“We have only good horses because we eat the bad ones (laughs)

However, horse meat is very cheap. In Iceland, to grow horses only for the meat is not respected . 90 % of the horse farming is all about to good horses

Always Spanish immigrants in his movies

In both movies (and probably in the third one) the actor and poet Juan Camillo plays the role of a Latino immigrant (and clown) in Iceland. Why?

“Juan Camillo has a special meaning for me because  he is a poet, philosopher, he represents something is beautiful and we need in Iceland, a different flower. Different nationalities and cultures make us richer. He is a good example of wealth and positive energy you can create: really integrated, reliable immigrant… He speaks Icelandic, he speaks about 2 homes, 2 roots…”

Interview Benedikt Erlingsson immigrants in Iceland
Interview Benedikt Erlingsson Juan Camillo

Whale hunting ships from the Country Basque

Iceland abolished the law which orders Basques to be killed on sight in 2015

The French explorer Samuel de Champlain described them as the cleverest men at this fishing

The year 1615 was a difficult year in Iceland with ice up to shores until late summer and considerable loss of livestock

Benedikt Erlingsson finds the descriptions (by the investigator and journalist Jón Guðmundsson the Learned) of the slaying of the Basques in the West Fiords (17th century) incredible

The captain, Martín de Villafranca, was injured in the shoulder and chest with an axe, but he managed to escape into the sea, however he was stoned in the water and dragged to the shore where he was tortured to death

“Despite this, Icelanders were amazed by the beauty of the Spanish captain: he has dark hair, he swims in cold water and, at the same time, he sings the most beautiful songs they had never heard. The Vikings who came here they swam, but Icelanders lost the ability”

Check the movie by Aitor Aspe

A Basque – Icelandic dictionary

An Icelandic-Basque lexicon has been preserved, indicating some trading between the two nationalities

“When Jón Guðmundsson the Learned, who was very critical with his country folk, was driven out of the area, he left a long list of words in both languages, a kind of dictionary

In linguistic terms is an unique document that shows the development of both languages”

Passion for Spain

“I became interested in Spain reading Hemingway. I also made an essay in college about Spanish Civil War

When I went to Sevilla to take a 2 months Spanish course, I also took a detour to visit Els Comediants theatre company near Barcelona (Costa Brava) because they cause me a huge impact when they performed with fire on the streets of Reykjavik. Their aesthetic, their attitude… were like a sun to this remote island in the north”

The Spanish photographer Kim Manresa was there

Els Comediants didn´t want to talk in Spanish

“I found out Els Comedants were living in collective, they were anarchists but friendly

I tried to talk to them in Spanish (with my basic level), but they wanted to talk to me in Catalan

It was a funny experience

My favourite directors are Carlos Saura (the same as Baltasar Kormákur) and Almodóvar”

What is your favourite area in Iceland?

“My favourite area in Iceland is Möðrudalur að fjöllum: crazy, isolated and wild. Moon landscape, desert, green land, glacier, blue fox, the beautiful Queen of Icelandic Mountains, Herðubreið…

The queen of mountains in Iceland
Herðubreið by Ísland í Notskum

And also you can find the farm at the highest level over see (469 m)

I recommend the hotel and cafeteria  Fjallakaffi”

Are you not afraid of revealing the place to the tourists?

“The tourists are not a problem at this part of Iceland (out of the bitten track) and we don’t kill them any more (laughs)”

Interview Benedikt Erlingsson by Spanish writer Jordi Pujolá
The Interview to Benedikt Erlingsson horses everywhere

Benedikt Erlingsson interview by Jordi Pujola, Spanish writer in Iceland