Malou Reymann

Growing up, Malou Reymann was part of a children’s theater group. One day, there was an ad there for a casting call for a kids’ show on DR. She came, she saw, she conquered.  For the next ten years, she would act whenever she was offered a role. One such role earned her a nomination for the Robert and Bodil Awards for her part in Hella Joof’s 2009 feature film “Hush Little Baby.” Reymann says this decade of sporadic acting wasn’t much, but enough for her to become fascinated by the craft of filmmaking and, at the same time, build a network within the film industry. As a result, she made her first short film at nineteen, but that didn’t go too well, and it would be years before she dared to give it another shot. Three years later, she made another short, “13”, that won the Best Short Film Award at the Odense Film Festival in 2011. More than the success of the short, it was the better filmmaking experience of this second attempt that was most important to Reymann, thus prompting her to switch her acting career for one in filmmaking. Reymann holds a BA in Literature from the University of Copenhagen and an MA in Directing Fiction from the National Film & TV School in England. She has directed a number of short films at the Danish Film Institute Film Workshop and was nominated for a Robert for her short “Oslo-Copenhagen” in 2014. Her short film “Interruption,” funded by New Danish Screen, screened at a number of film festivals, including the 2015 edition of CPH PIX.

Her first feature film, “A Perfectly Normal Family,” won the VPRO Big Screen Award at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam. A touching drama inspired by her own experiences, the film looks at the complex relationship between a young girl and her transgender parent. Eleven-year-old Emma has a perfectly normal family until her dad, Thomas, decides to transition and live as a woman. Thomas becomes Agnete, and both father and daughter struggle to hold on to what they had, while accepting that everything has changed. Reymann splendidly and gently captures a family working its way through a unique situation and finding themselves in the process.



This is a personal story for you. Why was it important for you to tell this story? Was it difficult to tackle?

Malou Reymann: I didn’t think I would make this film as my first feature. I was working on something else after film school, but after a while, the commisioner turned the project down. Luckily, he invited me for a meeting to discuss it and he asked whether I was working on something else. I wasn’t and I hadn’t prepared a pitch for that meeting, so I ended up pitching A Perfectly Normal Family. I didn’t know at all what my take on it would be, but I told him I had an idea of using my own experience of my dad transitioning from man to woman for a film at some point. His immediate response was that he would like to watch that film. So, I went back to my producers and told them about the improvised pitch and luckily they also wanted to make that film. It was difficult to make the decision to tell this story the way I wanted to since my family had obviously experienced the same thing in another way. But once I had made that decision, it was actually quite easy to work with the material because it was so close to my heart. But I’ll also say that I had done many years of therapy prior to beginning that process, so I was very ready to work with it in a way that wasn’t therapy.

Contrary to other stories tackling transgender topics, yours is not about the transition per se, but rather about the younger daughter’s unease and coming to terms with the new situation, and in that you tell it from the children’s perspective. Can you comment on that?

M.R.: First of all, that was my experience, so I felt like that was a story I could tell. But also, I think that taking the perspective of the child enabled me to open up the subject so that the film became more about a family undergoing a big change, which I think a lot of people can relate to, also if they don’t have a lot or even any knowledge of transitioning. Then, maybe people who define themselves more within the norm could watch the film and experience how being transgender is maybe not that different after all. This idea of making the film accessible was crucial in all stages of making the film – scriptwriting, casting, schooting, editing and so on: I wanted everything to be very recognizable so that it would be very easy to identify with the characters and the world they’re in.

You don’t care about political correctness as it forces people to react the way they should react instead of how they actually would, but rather about the emotional truth of the situation/experience. In that, it is also a quiet exploration of a family trying to find a way to be together without fighting about which you make us care deeply. Can you delve more into that?

M.R.: Since I experienced my dad transioning in 1999, there wasn’t any political correctness in our experience at all. People did not know how to react to this at that time and, of course, that made it very difficult because we were very alone in what we were going through and we didn’t have a language for it or anyone to talk to in order to try and find a way to talk about it. Even the therapists we talked to had no idea how to talk about it. They suggested that our dad become our aunt since she was now a woman. That was just never true to us, but they were supposed to be the experts… So, obviously, there was a lot of confusion and we had to just try and find a way within that confusion. And we did that for many years and then suddenly things changed. People started to react differently when I would tell people who didn’t already know. Suddenly, there was a lot of attention on being transgender and, of course, that is really a positive thing, but I think with it came the political correctness. And I think that overall it’s a good thing because we do need to learn how to talk about minorities. As I said, what was really difficult was not having a language. But I think the tipping point is when we become afraid of saying the wrong thing and therefore don’t dare to talk about a subject. That’s bad and that never moves us forward. We need to always be able to express ourselves freely. My approach regarding the film was that if I portray these characters with love, then I can also let them be flawed, and in that sense, it actually doesn’t matter whether they are transgender or not.

That actually brings us to the title, which is precisely what you are showing us in the film: “A Perfectly Normal Family.”

M.R.: Yes, one critic – surprisingly, from a conservative newspaper – here in Denmark said that the film was a tribute to normality and I was quite happy with that because that is what I wanted. To tell a story about this perfectly normal family where it turns out the dad is trangender. I wanted to avoid the sensation. Because if I told this story in a way where being a transgender parent was just another thing parents can be, then hopefully that’s what an audience experiences.

Can you talk about the casting? Especially for the roles of Emma – because Kaya Toft Loholt is absolutely fascinating and you were essentially casting someone to play yourself – and Agnete?

M.R.: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard came on board first. I had thought about the character being older, so I actually hadn’t thought about Mikkel, but then he contacted me because he had heard about the film. And once I knew he was interested, I couldn’t get him out of my head. He just became the characther as I was writing. Kaya Toft Loholt was pure luck. She had decided, when she was 9, that she wanted to be an actress. So she made a selftape and sent it to the casting director shortly before we started casting. We had arranged a big open casting with lots of football girls. But once we saw Kaya, there was no doubt. She just understands acting naturally. I had to remind myself all the time that I was working with a child because she understood directing the same way Mikkel did. It was actually never a premise that any of the actors were playing me or any members of my family and we never worked with it that way. Of course, I told them about my experience and my connection to the material, but I wanted them to work freely with their characters, like they shouldn’t feel like they had to play a specific person.

Can you talk about Mikkel Boe Følsgaard’s performance?

M.R.: Mikkel is an incredible actor and he was so invested in the project. I can’t explain how he did it, but he really created this character from within himself. He never met my dad before the film came out and yet everyone says it’s like seeing my dad, which is strange because it was never something we set out for. I really can’t give Mikkel enough credit for his work on this film. And, sadly, because of all the political correctness, he didn’t dare to talk about the film when it came out, but I know how much the film and the role meant to him. And it took so much from him both physically and mentally to do it, so I think he deserves all the credit in the world for his courage and his talent.

Did you talk to your dad when you were working on the film? How did she react when she saw the film?

M.R.: Yes, I talked to my dad and asked her questions along the way. It turned out she had forgotten a lot of details from the transition, so instead, she let me read her diary. That was super helpful and, of course, a beautiful thing for her to give me access to her process back then. The PR team here in Denmark asked me if my dad, Helene, wanted to be part of the PR work. I really had no idea, so I was quite nervous when I asked her. She said yes and that made me super happy. We shot a PR video with the two of us talking about the film, so first, we had to watch the film together. Luckily, she loved the film and we both laughed and cried while watching it. The first thing she said was that she couldn’t understand how Mikkel could play that characther so well.

Do you think the film will open and change minds on the transgender and LGBT topics?

M.R.: I hope so. In Denmark, it got quite a lot of attention in the media and I think it attracted an audience who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily watch a film on trangender and LGBT topics. I also really hope that schools will use it to talk about gender.

Are you a feminist? If so, how does this inform your filmmaking?

M.R.: Yes, no doubt. It informs my filmmaking in all ways, consciously and unconsciously. The stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them, the way I work with people and so on. It’s just part of who I am and I try to be true to myself in everything I do, so it’s not something I decide, it’s just something that happens.

What subjects interest you and that you would like to tackle in your work? What would you like audiences to come away with after watching your films?

M.R.: I’m interested in the relationship between the norm and ”the other.” I feel like I have both within me. I guess we all do in different ways. I’m really curious about trying to tell stories that deal with this relationship both within people and within societies.

Who is your favorite female filmmaker and your favorite film by a female filmmaker?

M.R.: I can’t name one, but I think all female filmmakers have been important to me in making it more accesible for me to get to make films and I admire so many of them: Jane Campion, Lone Scherfig, Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay just to name a few.

There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past two and a half years. What is your take on the matter? How is it in Denmark?

M.R.: Yes, there’s a lot of talk and a tiny bit of action. But I think percentagewise, not much has changed; the industry is still very dominated by men, also here in Denmark. I think it will take a long time because it has to do with something as deep as the way we tell stories. We’ve been used to a certain kind of storytelling for so many years and it takes time to create space for other kinds of stories and other ways of telling them. But I think there are things that could be changed quite easily and those are practical things. I gave birth just after finishing this film and I suddenly understood why so few women choose this worklife.

What are your next projects?

M.R.: I’m working on two films. One is about women who are too strong for their time and the other one is a kids’ film.




Photo credit: Dan Atherton.

This interview was conducted in partnership with:


Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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