A dramatic feature film. In pre-producion. Adapted from a play by Swedish playwright Lars Noren.
WAR – LOG LINE
A family is reduced to mere survival in a war-torn country a few years from now. Their world explodes when the mother and her daughters confront the unexpected return of her husband - who was presumed to be killed in action and is now blind.
While first reading WAR by renowned Scandinavian playwright Lars Norén, I thought of something a friend once said: “Catastrophe is my starting point!” The characters of WAR are thrown into the highly-charged crucible of a world run amok and are forced to find a new way to live. I thought of how throughout history mankind has overcome the darkest periods with surprising creativity. It is almost as if we need to come to catastrophic dead ends before we can create new beginnings. To me, this human resiliency is at the core of the story that will inform my choices in the production of this film.
Norén’s WAR is about something of great magnitude. It has a higher purpose in mind. We are all now living on the hinge of history, a dangerous time where everything is in question, a time of constant war. Could there be a more timely film? WAR asks important questions and yet plays out on the most fundamental human stage of the family. I have thought for many years to make a film about the indirect effects of war. Not the external battlefield chaos we see in the huge budget movies, but the profound internal destruction on a human scale -- the desperate poverty, violence against women and the destruction of family.
I want to depict characters who are put into extreme situations, experience emotional states where self-creation and self-destruction walk a razor’s edge. The story is brilliant, intimate, driving, emotional and has a surprising and hopeful ending. The characters are fully formed and authentic, but there is much more here than meets the eye. Norén’s writing stealthily gets inside you and once there, it transforms into something unexpected, explosive, transcendent. On the outside, a superficial reading might see it as modest naturalism, but soon you realize how bold the grand ideas and emotions are compressed inside the writing, driving the story forward in unusual ways.
The story takes place nowhere and everywhere. I want that to be fundamental part of the film’s universality. Somewhere a few years from now, mankind faces its deepest existential challenge. We see it though the life of a family, the most essential human group. Adapting the play for the screen, I quickly saw in my mind’s eye the physical map of the story. In the writing, I found many structural “openings” to put the characters inside the landscape of the story. WAR is full of actions, events and private cinematic moments beyond the dialogue. We’ll mix unbroken takes in formally lit scenes and long tracking shots with energetic hand-held camera - that I believe intimately capture the powerful internality of the actors’ characterizations. I imagine evocative groupings of ramshackle huts or trailers on a bleak hillside. My long-time collaborator, renowned cinematographer Lisa Rinzler (Pollock, Lisbon Story, Dead Presidents) is committed to the film. Lisa loves to work in low light; sometimes a simple window source or even a candle is enough.
She works in an instinctive manner – starting with darkness and developing an evocative poetic, painterly palette and avoiding the appearance of artificial lighting “movie looks” I see long, wordless sequences where a character is followed in intimate tracking shots, which are deeply internal, following a single action. I want to maintain the apocalyptic tone in the writing played out in the imagery and performances. For instance, an otherworldly wind might travel over a wheat field. The gray haze in the sky might signify a far-off nuclear event. Subtle details, like the way a tattered curtain blows inward, a candle flickers, a moldy food or the caked blood on an actor's fingers give the story it’s tone. The sound design will be immensely important. Jet planes screeching overhead, and the look on a face when the jets are heard but not seen. The distant sound of helicopter blades whirring. Far off explosions, the flickering out of house lights, vibrations rolling through a house causing the window frames to vibrate. There is no need for big Hollywood scenes of battlefield explosions. Let the actual war take place inside each character’s psyche and the audience’s minds.
WAR is a character driven story. No one is black or white entirely, good or bad – everyone is just thrown into the human soup of chaos to fend for him or herself the best way they can. The power of the writing and intense characterization is that we see ourselves in all of them. Everyone is handicapped: a little girl who can’t sleep, an older sister is a prostitute, a ravaged mother in love with a distrustful man, and a soldier returning from war blinded and half mad. So there is no escape; the wounds are too fresh. But the story is exactly about the possibility of rebirth when there is seemingly no escape, and the unique quality of human beings to create escape routes just when none appear open to them. WAR is a meditation on the catastrophe of endless war. What happens when all of the social rules fall by the wayside? What happens between men and women? How do families stay together when economic catastrophe comes? What happens in the minds of children when all the norms and security of families are destroyed by famine, poverty, rape, and chaos?
Despite its dim view of the cultural moment, and the bitter edges of its characters, there is something exhilarating and hopeful about WAR. Part of that comes from the bold verve of its surprise emotional ending. Perhaps the seeds of our destruction hold new undreamed possibilities? Preserving the intention in Norén’s original writing keeps WAR from being just another gloomy post-apocalyptic movie. The story unfolds with a real purpose and grace, a family’s survival which mirrors mankind’s own struggle to ever-higher levels of morality.
WAR has a luminous ending instigated by the vitality of a 15-year-old girl who knows that life doesn’t stop, it can’t stop.
The film opens with a shocking image: A soldier, standing in his own shallow grave, is set ablaze. Super sonic jets scream overhead, all hell of war is breaking loose. A few huts are banded together on rubble filled hillside. It is only a few years from now when a mother named Ana, and her two daughters, 19-year-old Kat and 16-year-old Rain try to survive the aftermath of chaos. Ana and the girls are certain that the father is dead and will never return from battle. They barely survive. They sleep on pallets and wash in filthy water. The older girl is a sex-worker. Her younger sister Rain is full of youthful exuberance, keeps a happy face and never loses hope that her father, Jules is alive. The family’s world explodes when the mother confronts the unexpected return of her husband, presumed to be killed in action. To complicate matters, she has fallen in love with his kinder, smarter brother, Ivan.
To make matters far worse, Jules has been blinded and traumatized by battle. His psychic wound is too deep and too fresh for him to do anything but survive. He longs to find security in the family he left behind. But things have changed dramatically. A cat and mouse game ensues between Ana and Jules. Jules is hungry for love and what he thinks is his to own – his wife’s body. But Ana wants no part of a man she claims never to have loved. She wants her freedom to find a new life with his brother Ivan. The threat of violence is in the air, no telling what will happen if Jules finds out about his own wife’s affair with his brother. So the family hides the fact of Ivan from Jules. Rain is overjoyed to be reunited with her daddy. But how does Ana hide her love of Ivan, who has avoided the war and is making his way as a pimp. Ivan is not only having sex with his brother’s wife, but Ana’s 19-year old-daughter Kat who he also has working in the sex business. Next on Ivan’s list is the younger Rain. But this is where upbeat Rain draws a line. For now she will survive collecting empty bottles and cans. She has far bigger plans for her future than her sister’s dead-end life.
Although blind, Jules intuits that something is up beyond what he can hear. He picks up clues in anyway he can. He hears fragments of speech and whispers in conversations. He touches the ruby red lipstick on Kat’s lips and finds the provocative way she dresses. It informs him about her late night absences. Ivan often lurks quietly in the same room as Ana and the girls. They are all unsure when to tell Jules of his presence. Though Jules slowly senses another presence in the room he’s reluctant to act. It is almost like they all are in a conspiracy against their father. Except young Rain, who is happy that he has returned. Jules, on the other hand, is desperate for some affection. He tries raping his wife who emotionally rejects him, and even tries seducing his daughter Kat. It has been said that, “the one who loves the least is in control”. The aging mother Ana longs for the love of Ivan, but Ivan is in it for his own survival. He gets what he wants not only from Ana, but from Kat and any number of local girls who he seems to keep under his control. Jules describes his brother as a lazy, self-centered do-nothing who had all the advantages that he never received.
WAR is not only a film about the power play when the family breaks down, but on the deepest level it is nothing less than a meditation on human nature. At the ethical core of the story is 16-year-old Rain. She is coming of age in a world run amok and we wonder if she has any chance. But the vital Rain knows that life doesn’t and can’t stop. In her youthful exuberance life is something pure, something hopeful. She has an odd combination of naiveté and indomitable faith in the future. She rejects her older sister’s drugs and sex work. She is obsessed with “The Diary Of Anne Frank” and uses the story as a map for her own self-creation. Armed with a disarming smile and a sharp wit, Rain longs to find a way out for her and her family.
The mother, Ana has the look of someone permanently stricken. There is only one way out for her she believes, and that is to get away with Ivan. Jules struggles to understand and to find reconciliation with his estranged Ana. But Ana plans to leave with the girls if she can. The dysfunctional family seems doomed. But in the darkness is the set-up for the story’s surprising luminous turn.
Through an inconceivable piecing together of events, the blind Jules slowly learns the truth that his brother is living with his wife in his midst and their plan to leave together and take his children. The two brothers find themselves face to face, not having lived their lives or the war in the same way. The potential for violence turns to a kind of understanding between brothers, knowing that that in war all the rules disappear and anything is possible. When the older sister Kat scores a wallet and a roll of cash from one of her clients, she is finally ready to get free. Ivan helps her by putting her on a refugee bus out of town. But Ana too wants out to a place that might be better. But then Rain takes over. She’s not going to leave her beloved father. Rain wants to stay with her dysfunctional family and hold them together. Rain’s spirit and youthful exuberance can’t be held back. No matter the darkness of the hour, Rain knows life goes on. Catastrophe is her starting point!
Richard Kroehling (Director / Screenwriter)
Richard Kroehling is a two-time Emmy Award winning director/producer/screenwriter who has produced over fifty hours of productions for major television networks and festival audiences. Richard directed "Einstein, How I See The World" a feature documentary with William Hurt for PBS "American Masters". The L.A. Times called it "...the most astonishing and poetic compression of grand ideas ever managed in one hour of television...a masterful film portrait... Kroehling enters Einstein's mind with great personal cinematic style." In 1999, Richard directed the award winning "World Without End" for Film FOUR in competition at many festivals, critics wrote of the film: "A brilliant movie making style that delivers you into a scorching disturbing world". Richard directed and created many crime TV programs and series including “Rookies”, “Inside Pittsburgh Homicide” and the controversial series “Confessions”. Entertainment Weekly magazine called the series "Gripping, part of a new hard-edge new wave that will change television". Richard wrote and directed "2B” a fiction film. Set in 2021, and based on his work on renowned futurist, author and director of Google research, Ray Kurzweil’s New York Times best seller, “The Singularity Is Near”. The film portrays a familiar rusting world on the cusp of unimaginable wonders and dangers. Critics hailed the film, “This breathtaking film designed to jump-start the conversation about the moral and religious questions raised by the bio-tech revolution. The result is as confronting as it is mesmerizing!” Kroehling’s film, “Shadow Casting Me ” is part of director Lars Von Trier’s, Gesamt Project in the 2013 Copenhagen Art Festival and the Gothenburg Film Festival. Kroehling also is a fine artist with a body of personal expanded cinema work screened internationally at galleries and museums including MOMA and the Jewish Museum in New York, Teatro de Triennale di Milano. Currently, Richard is collaborating with Lisa Rinzler on an art installation about an imagined rust belt city titled “Dollarland”, which was shown at WAAM in 2018.
Kroehling Feature Excerpt Reel
Lisa Rinzler (Cinematographer)
Lisa Rinzler has an international reputation as a cinematographer. She is one of only two women depicted in the film “Visions of Light”, a celebration of the on the world’s top cinematographers. Lisa received an Academy Award nomination for her cinematography for “Pollock”, starring Ed Harris. She was the recipient of the Sundance Independent Spirit Award in 2001 for “Three Seasons”. Lisa won a prime time Emmy in television for cinematography for Wim Wenders’ “Soul of a Man”, and Alex Gibney’s “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God”. She has lensed over fifty award-winning feature films and documentaries, including “Buena Vista Social Club”; a Sundance Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography for “Menace II Society”, and “Patti Smith”. Rinzler has worked with Wim Wenders, Steve Buscemi, and Martin Scorsese. Rinzler and Kroehling are long time collaborators who have worked on a wide range of film and television genres together. Her documentaries also include Martine Scorsese’s “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan”. Currently, Lisa is collaborating with Kroehling on an art installation about ghosts in an imagined rust belt city titled “Dollarland”, which was shown at WAAM in 2018. As a fine artist, Lisa has produced many works for gallery and museum installations including “The Lives They Left Behind - Suitcases from a Psychiatric Hospital” and “Death by Unnatural Causes”, which premiered at Sundance. Also, an intimate portrait of iconic beatnik photographer Robert Frank which appeared at the 2015 New York Film Festival and the 2016 Berlinale. Lisa recently lensed Wim Wenders' portrait of Pope Francis, "A Man Of His Word".
POLLOCK (Ed Harris)
The Soul Of A Man (Wim Wenders)
Ingrid Rudefors (Co-Producer)
Ingrid Rudefors was handpicked in 2008 to build up the film commission of Stockholm from scratch. With her colleagues from the other film-commissions in Sweden, she has also created the national film commission Sweden Film Commission.
Ingrid started out as production coordinator in New York in the early 1990s working on 15 feature films with directors like Hal Hartley and Mike Figgies and producers like Eric Fellner, Ted Hope and Jack Schwartzman.
After moving to Sweden in the mid-90s she worked as line producer and 1st AD on several Swedish feature films and major commercials.
She has served on the board of directors for “Association of film commissioners Int.” for six years, which has giving her a network of film industry friends from all over the world. She has also directed and produced six award winning short films. Ingrid lives in New York City but also have a home-base in Stockholm.
Lars Norén (Writer)
Lars Norén is considered to be Sweden's preeminent playwright, often said to be the August Strindberg of the 20th century. He is also known for his poetry, novels and as an outstanding stage director. The Norén canon is incomparable - more than one hundred plays. He has been awarded a number of prestigious literary awards in Sweden and elsewhere. Norén has been translated into many languages, but has had more success in Scandinavia and the 'German speaking world' than anywhere else. However, during the last decade he has been discovered all around the globe. His writing is drawn with emotionally powerful characterizations, surprising plots and frank explosive dialogue. The critics have celebrated his bold work calling him ”A merciless critic of a world run amok” and “A brilliant provocateur”.
Many playwrights hold up a mirror to society, while it has been said that Lars Norén holds up a mirror to the human soul.