“I was immediately captured by the characters — they were people I knew or had even met. And it was a timeless story, about universally human values, although it takes place more than 100 years ago,” said Norwegian writer-director Vibeke Idsøe of “The Lion Woman,” her period drama that had its world premiere Aug. 21 at the opening of the 44th Norwegian Intl. Film Festival in Haugesund.
“Most people have at some stage of their lives felt they were different, and beyond the usual scope of being loved — or thought they were. Here is a woman who certainly looks odd, and she knows it will never change; but will she stand up against it, or will it destroy her? This woman decides to fight,” Idsøe said.
Adapted from Norwegian author Erik Fosnes Hansen’s international bestseller, “The Lion Woman” is set between 1912-1937 and follows Eva, the daughter of the stationmaster in a small Norwegian community, who is born with hair covering her entire body. Her mother dies when giving birth, and in the beginning her father tries to hide her.
But she manages to face and overcome the challenges she is facing due to her appearance, and her exceptional intelligence (especially in mathematics) takes her from the little Norwegian village to the world. When she returns to attend her father’s funeral, she is a professor lecturing at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Produced by Idsøe’s husband John M. Jacobsen, of Oslo’s Filmkameratene, “The Lion Woman” stars Swedish actor Rolf Lassgård as the father, while Aurora Lindseth-Løkka (9), Mathilde Hummervoll Storm (16) and Ida Ursin-Holm (25) share role as Eva. Cast also includes Kjersti Tveterås, Rolf Kristian Larsen and Connie Nielsen.
Educated at the New York University-Tisch School of Arts, Idsøe is both an author and writer-director, and made her first film in 1996 from her own children’s book, “Body Troopers,” which won several awards, including an Amanda, Norway’s national film prize, for best debut. In 2005 she made her first feature targeting adult audiences, “37½,” a comedy about a woman approaching 40.
When she took over “The Lion Woman” production four years ago, she wrote a screenplay and sent it to Fosnes Hansen, the author of the 2006 novel, whom she knew, and suggested another ending than in the book: “What really happened to the woman?” Hansen came up with the idea used in the film. “The advantage of getting older is knowing that it is not so important who suggests the solution of a problem, as long as it is the right one. The novel is a 415-page book, and I would hate to meet him coming out from the premiere declaring he wouldn’t lend his name to that crap,” said Idsøe.
In Haugesund they were both at the world premiere, still talking.
“I had sent the script to Rolf Lassgård, he was interested, so I went to Stockholm, very well prepared, but he liked both the role and the story. The three actresses for the lead were found at regular castings, although it was a little complicated to select three who could he the same person, even with hair all over her body,” said Idsøe.
Most of the finance was delivered by German co-producers and funds — with a $10 million budget the film is the second-most expensive Norwegian feature ever made — so out of the 50 shooting days, only seven took place in Norway, and 43 in Germany, where one of the main locations, the train station, was built near Bocchum. But there were difficulties.
“German crews are much bigger than Norwegian ones, and in Germany children must only work six hours a day. Two of them would go for make-up, so it was a bit of a puzzle — we actually filmed scenes with the youngest lion girl in the morning, and with the slightly older in the afternoon. Their families accompanied them and were a great support,”said Idsøe.
Her latest film as a director was released 11 years ago; yet she does not expect wait another 11 to make her next. “I have several projects I am considering, but it is too early to talk about them. But in 2005 I had not been ready to make ‘The Lion Woman.’ Today I feel much safer in my work,” Idsøe concluded.
Pictured: Director Vibeke Idsøe and Swedish actor Lars Lassgård on the set of “The Lion Woman”