Sentenced to community service at a small, countryside church, Adam, a middle-aged neo-Nazi, is warmly welcomed by the cheerful vicar, Ivan. Although Adam is crude, full of hostility, and clearly beyond redemption, Ivan encourages him to choose a goal that will occupy his time there. When Adam dismissively replies that he will bake an apple pie, Ivan assigns him the task of nurturing the church’s lone apple tree. If by the time this unassuming tree has been attacked by crows, infested with maggots, and struck by lightning, you are not reasonably certain it has become the battleground for a fiercely irreverent struggle between good and evil, then you have not had the pleasure of meeting an Anders Thomas Jensen film.
With a supporting bunch of characters that includes an Arab immigrant who routinely robs gas stations and a chubby former tennis pro and sex addict, this glib parable of religion and human nature plays out with wit and sophistication. Into Adam and Ivan (played with deadpan perfection by Ulrich Thomsen and Mads Mikkelsen), Jensen deposits competing philosophies. Ivan, whose absurd philosophical optimism would have Voltaire falling out of his pew, interprets events as the devil testing people. Adam shakes his unflappable faith by suggesting that evil simply doesn’t exist.
Anders Thomas Jensen, director of Adam’s Apples was born on 6th April 1972 in Frederiksværk on Sjælland in Denmark. He made his film debut in 1996 with three short films, including the Academy Award nominated “Ernst & Lyset”, which he also directed. The following year Jensen wrote and directed “Wolfgang”, which also earned an Academy Award nomination for best short film. After being nominated two previous years Jensen finally won in 1999 an Oscar for best short film with “Valgaften”. He followed it with writing the screenplay for two successful films in 1999, “Mifunes sidste sang” and “I Kina spiser de hunde”. Jensen was nominated for a Robert (Danish Academy Award) for the both films, but neither won.
After having written screenplays for films in various genres, in 2000 he made his feature film debut as a director with “Blinkende lygter” – Flickering Lights. The film was a huge blockbuster hit in Denmark and also gained interest abroad. Jensen continued to write the screenplays to “Grev Axel” (2001), Lone Scherfig’s “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” (2002) and Susanne Bier’s celebrated “Elsker dig for evigt”- Open Hearts (2002).
Jensen then wrote and directed “De Grønne slagtere” – The Green Butchers (2003). He also wrote the screenplays for Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s “Skagerrak” and “Rembrandt”. In 2004 Jensen wrote the screenplay for Susanne Bier’s “Brødre” – Brothers, and this was followed by “Adam’s Apples”.
He next wrote “Efter brylluppet” (2006) (After the Wedding), directed by Susanne Bier and with Mads Mikkelsen and Rolf Lassgård in leading roles. This film was one of five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film for 2007 Academy Awards.
Mads Dittmann Mikkelsen that plays the lead part in Adam’s Apples was born on the 22nd of November, 1965 in Østerbro, Denmark. Mads Mikkelsen made his professional debut in Danish theatres in the movie Pusher in 1996. Mads Mikkelsen’s hard looks and style made him an instant hit the movie was soon followed up with more of the same style. Mads Mikkelsen has moved on to the international stage with the movies Arthur in 2004 and James Bond: Casino Royale (2006) where he plays bad guy Le Chiffre.
Bijan Tehrani: People are scared of unexpected, even when they go to the movies they like to see movies they can categorize them and be ready for them. Adam’s Apples does not much any of the genera the audience is used to. It is an unexpected movie. Is that something you deliberately decided to do?
Anders Thomas Jensen: It’s very intentional. I, myself like to see movies with unexpected twists. I need to be surprised. I mean, all drama and movies are about storytelling but a good movie is the one that takes new turns. I know there are a lot of people that see this differently and believe that you have to give people what they expect, but I believe the opposite; I think you have to take it out where people don’t think it will go. That is what is interesting for me.
Bijan: Critics are talking about your dark humor. I personally did not find anything so dark about it. May be because you are talking about fait or matters that are considered serious and sacred they think like that?
Anders: It depends on people and where you are, I have noticed that people laugh at different things. They always do. If you travel with the movie to different places and see what happens to the movie with an Egyptian audience or an American audience or an Asian audience, you notice that people will definitely laugh differently and in different parts of the movie. For example when you take them to the edge, for example when you are talking about handicaps, some may not laugh any more, because every place you go there are certain taboos that nobody laughs at them anymore. Then you reach a certain point that you lose everybody as they will stay quite after that. do you know what I’m saying?
Mads Mikkelson: In some places religious taboos can not be laughed at and in other places mentioning handicap issues is a taboo and nobody laughs about them. But taboos are there all the time and everywhere.
Bijan: How has been your relationship with religion and fait? Your movie comes out at a time that both east and west are leaning more towards religious approaches than in the last few decades, was that ever a factor for you to make Adam’s Apples?
Anders: I don’t believe in God. I’m not part of any religion in any way. But I like the bible because there are some good stories in it. As a storyteller I respect the bible for its anecdotes and tales. But It has always been very difficult for me to understand the people that believe in God and that’s just how I feel about this matter.
Bijan: Are you creating your own version of Book of Job in Adam’s Apples?
Anders: Yes, to a certain extent this is true. But Adam’s Apples is not a retelling of the Book of Job, it’s more like a paraphrasing of it. I used the elements of the Book of Job that fit my story. But it would be wrong to say that this film is a faithful adaptation of the book of Job..
Bijan: Does being from Scandinavia plays a role in the way you see the world? A Finish friend of mine was saying that living through long dark winter nights makes you wonder about all your beliefs.
Anders: Well, I do believe that it true. Of course the environment that you grow up in. has an influence in your work and the way you look at the world. But I think it is much easier for people outside to talk about it and recognize than for me. Because for me it’s like mother’s milk, it’s comes naturally with you. But of course there is this dark, Scandinavian way of looking at life that is part of my looking at issues and I just don’t know how to describe it.
Bijan: The characters in Adam’s Apples are all in their extremes, how do you explain that?
Anders: This is not limited only to the characters, everything in this movie is in extreme, all the symbols are extreme. Adam’s Apples is taking everything to a 120%. It’s reality plus 20%. The characters are all on the edge of reality and they are extreme. That’s the concept of the movie and in general in making of a comedy having extreme characters is helpful.
Bijan: Do you find any closeness to Ingmar Bergman?
Anders: I would not say so because I would not compare myself with him. I wouldn’t dare to do that. But I hear it all the time.…
Bijan: Maybe because he’s the only one Scandinavian film director they know!
Anders: Yeah! (Laughs) But I have seen his movies and may be I’m also inspired by him.. But there is nothing intentional about this.
Bijan: I believe the audiences that are not familiar withreferences to Book of Jobs still understand the challenges that you are facing them about fait and truth. What they would be missing but not knowing about the references.
Anders: Yes, but not much. I really tried to be thorough about that but you should actually be able to see the film and understand it without knowing the Book of Job or the Bible at all. I think the film would work without any knowledge of those.
Mads Mikkelson: I didn’t know anything about the Bible or the Book of Job at first but after reading the scri pt where the neo Nazi character talks about the Book of Job I started to understand them and I had no problem with the story
Bijan: Mads, how challenging was to play the priest part in the Adam’s Apples for you?
Mads Mikkelson: It was challenging and it’s always challenging area. I’ve worked with Andres before and his characters are extreme. You have to find something solid that is true about the character that is inside the character and from then on you can use it as base to act that character. You have to find something that you recognize within yourself. To tell you the truth I couldn’t take all the themes of the movie in playing this part. I found him an idiot and looked at them as an idiot. This man was a naïve man a mental case. That’s the way I looked at it.
Bijan: The last scen of the movie with the Bee Gees song was very funny.
Anders: Yes, and that was one of the basic ideas for the whole story. If you take a hot boiled Neo Nazi and you sort of should make the transition to change him, where would you like to see him go? What is the furthest away you could take him? That would be for him sit and think and listen to that version of “How Deep Is Your Love”. That was basically the thought.
Bijan: What are your future plans and what is your next project?
Anders: I cannot really tell you about it yet. It’ll be the next time we meet because right now I am just working on scripts for other directions.
Bijan: Who are the filmmakers that you like?
Anders: I have a lot of them. I am a great fan of American cinema. Billy Wilder, I am a huge fan of Billy Wilder. Also I love Martin Scorsese movies and of course I admire Frank Capra. There are so many directors in my favorite list.
Bijan: Thanks to both of you for your time.