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Breki Breaks Your Heart

We talk to the director of one of the most heartbreaking films at the Reykavik International Film Festival

Breki is a beautifully shot meditation on loss and bereavement and it tells the true story of a man undergoing hypnotherapy in order to recall the deeply buried traumatic memory of his father's death. This conceptually rich short film works on a number of levels and has a unique cinematic style that is incredibly visually arresting – perfectly capturing the mind's dance between various dream states and the psychological relationship between past and present in a kaleidoscopic journey into the unconscious. it's heartbreaking to watch without being sentimental, which is a difficult thing to achieve, so we thought we would spend some time out of mind with the director Hilmar Oddson at The Reykavik International Film Festival.

Dazed Digital: Breki is very unique in terms of its cinematography, were there any films that inspired its style? how did you approach the idea of making a film about recalling memory?
Hilmar Oddson:
The basic idea behind the style of cinematography was to create a feeling of how we recall our memories visually. I think we remember glimpses or bits and pieces, not the whole picture, or should I say the whole scene. That´s why we decided early to shoot the film with a handheld camera. and to work intensively with depth of field. We spoke about some films in connection with the visual storytelling, like most filmmakers do in their prep period, and some of them were truly inspiring.

DD: This film was based on a true story and I understand you knew the people involved?  How did it come together? 
Hilmar Oddson:
 In the year 1991, my main cameraman over the years, Sigurður Sverrir Pálsson, made a documentary called At Sea about an actor, Valdimar Örn Flygenring, preparing for a film role in a film by Hilmar Oddsson (me), by working on a trawler from The Westman Islands, called Breki. The purpose of the film was to show the real life on board a ship – how the sailors live, do their work and communicate etc. The given reason for the trip was actually fictive, just to build a story line for the documentart but during the fishing trip Valdimar got acquainted with the sailor Kalli Bigga Jó, who became his best friend and main mentor onboard. Just a few months after the shooting, Kalli Bigga Jó died onboard Breki.

DD: So that was the catalyst for the project?
Hilmar Oddson:
Yes. Nineteen years later Haraldur Ari Karlsson, a student of mine, came to me with an idea for a short film about how had experienced the death of his father as a five-year-old, and how he had been trying to cope with a feeling of guild since childhood because he gave his dad a hard time last time they saw each other. He wrote the manuscript for Breki as a kind of a treatment, to try, once for all, to get rid of this feeling of guilt. He asked me to direct it because I was involved in the making of the old documentary At Sea as a consultant. It was therefore only logical that we asked Valdimar Örn Flygenring to take the part of the psychiatrist, the other lead, beside Haraldur himself, who played both himself and his father. Most of the locations in Breki are 'real' locations and some of the actors were old friends and colleagues of Kalli Bigga Jó. This film is about loss, how we sometimes blame ourselves for things we had nothing to do with, and about a healing process – how we can come to terms with our own lives, forgive ourselves and accept our life as it is.

DD: Was it a very emotional experience to be on-set making this film?
Hilmar Oddson: It was tough for all of us, especially for Haraldur Ari. For him, the hardest moment was onboard the trawler, after we had filmed the accident. One of the actors did actually throw himself into the deep and dark Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night. That was a strong experience for everybody. The final scene where friends and relatives gather together at the real home of Kalli Bigga Jó was unforgettable, difficult and beautiful at the same time. Every tear was genuine and true.

DD: What do you think film as a medium can help us to understand about ourselves?
Hilmar Oddson: Films are like a band-aid. They don´t actually heal, but they can make us feel better, by making us laugh and cry. That is one of the main tasks of art, generally, to make us face ourselves, for good or worse. This is not the first time I have dealt with these topics in a film. My film Cold Light is more or less about a similar loss, or even worse – the main character loses his whole family in a snow avalanche. Death is just a part of life, and films should deal with it.