Synthesized Lives
By Paal Juliussen

©Photo by Tom Robertson

Paal Juliussen
A transplanted Winnipegger now living in Montreal
 Free-lance writer trained in philosophy and journalism
  Likes food and contemporary culture
 Musician and avid cyclist
Teaches English as a Second Language

Where would I be if my parents had never met? Would I still be a little seed, floating among the stars? "The Danish Poet" follows the lives of Kasper and Ingeborg, the protagonists in a Norwegian-Canadian animated short story. They are seemingly fated to become a couple through a series of unrelated, chance occurrences. Taken as a whole, these accidents of happenstance ultimately combine, and in their comingled brush strokes, a coherent life-canvas is created.  

Three years in the making, "The Danish Poet" won for Torill Kove the 2007 Academy Award for Animated Short Film. It was co-produced by Norway’s Mikrofilm AS and the National Film Board of Canada. Kove is a Norwegian-born Canadian animator who has lived in Montreal since 1982.


Torill Kove

The narrator, played by Liv Ullmann, Norway’s beloved and perhaps best-known actor, declares herself the child of the union of Ingeborg’s hairdresser Veslemay and Peter, who had met by chance, of course, and says: “But had it not been for the Danish poet and Sigrid Undset, a rainy summer in Norway, a slippery barn plank, a careless mailman, a hungry goat, a broken thumb and a crowded train, my parents might never have meta, and who knows I might still be a little seed floating around in the sky waiting for someone to come and get me.”

As "The Danish Poet" opens, we find Kasper trying to write in his sparse apartment. Chance thwarts his best intentions. Best intentions are calls within to live a life of action based on being fully human. For Kasper, being authentically human means he must write poetry. Fate is not kind to Kasper however. It will not let him write poetry as long as he just sits in his Copenhagen apartment. He has writer’s block and seeks the help of Doctor Mørk, a psychological counselor, who tells him to travel.

Heeding the doctor’s advice, Kasper searches the local library for travel books. Here he stumbles across Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-volume historical work of fiction which gave Sigrid Undset the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. It chronicles the life of Kristin in 14th century Norway. Unbeknownst to Kasper as he reads it, the book mirrors the initial vicissitudes in his and Ingeborg’s life which prevent their immediate union.

After reading the entire work, Kasper is determined to travel to Lillehammer, Norway, to meet his idol, Sigrid Undset. Arriving in Norway on a rainy day , Kasper seeks shelter at a farm. Here, he meets Ingeborg, whose hobby is mapping the stars in the night sky above the farm.  He stays on at the farm, eventually proposing to Ingeborg. Alas! She is promised to another man, and Kasper returns to Copenhagen broken-hearted, thoughts of Sigrid Undset forgotten.

When Ingeborg is widowed some years later, she sends a letter to Kasper, announcing her availability. Alas again! The careless mailman loses the letter, and more years pass. Upon Sigrid Undset’s death, Ingeborg goes to the funeral because she is a distant relative. Kasper goes because Undset is his favourite author. They meet, and when Kasper gets tripped up in Ingeborg’s floor-length tresses and breaks his thumb, Ingeborg sends to Norway for Veslemay to come and give her a shorter hair-style.

Veslemay meets Peter on a crowded train, and our narrator eventually comes into the world in order to relate the story of Kasper, the poet who obeys the law within, and Ingeborg, the amateur astronomer, effectively synthesizing the thought of Immanuel Kant, 18th century Europe’s greatest philosopher, who said, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. 

In an interview with Josh Armstrong, appearing in the February 26th, 2007 edition of "Animated Views," Kove says, “I’m happy when I hear from people who’ve seen the short that it makes them think about the kind of strangeness where we find inspiration for art and where we find love, and the kind of miraculousness of just being alive and having a life. I’m pleased when people get that out of it.”

Contact: Paal Juliussen

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