Malmros, Nils

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Nationality: Danish. Born: Born Nils Sigurd Malmros, Aarhus, Denmark, 5 October 1944. Education: Student at Aarhus Katedralskole, 1964; studies in medicine, Aarhus University, 1964–1987. Family: Married Marianne Tromholt, 5 June 1982. Career: Doctor at Aarhus kommune hospital neurosurgical department. Awards: Danish Film Critics Bodil Award for Best Film, for Lars-Ole 5C, 1974; Krebs' School Award, 1975; Danish Film Critics Bodil Award for Best Film, for Drenge, 1977; Preben Franks Memorial Award, 1982; Gjest Baardsen Award, Olso, 1982; Audience Prize of the "Lübecker Nachrichten," Lübeck Nordic Film Days, for Kundskabens træ, 1982; Niels Matthiasens Memorial Award, 1983; Albertslunds Cultural Fond's Honorary Award, 1983; Danish Film Academy Robert Award for Best Film and Best Screenplay, and Danish Film Critics Bodil Award for Best Film, for Skønheden og udyret, 1984; Otto Rungs Authors Award, 1990; Danish Playwriter's Organization Honorable Award, 1993; Danish Film Critics Bodil Award for Best Film, and Danish Film Academy Robert Award for Best Film, for Kærlighedens smerte, 1993; National Art Council's Lifetime Award, 1995; Danish Film Academy Robert Award for Best Film, and Rouen Nordic Film Festival Audience Award, for Barbara, 1998; Hartmann Award, 1998.

Films as Director:


En mærkelig kærlighed (+sc, pr)


Lars Ole, 5C (+sc, pr)


Drenge (Boys) (+sc, pr)


Kammersjukjul (short—for TV)


Kundskabens træ (The Tree of Knowledge) (+sc)


Skønheden og udyret (Beauty and the Beast) (+sc)


Århus by Night (+sc)


Kærlighedens smerte (Pain of Love) (+sc)


Barbara (+sc)


By MALMROS: articles—

Thrane, Finn, interview in Kosmorama, no. 123–24, 1974.

Nissen, Dan, and Morten Piil, "Livet er et langt uskyldstab," interview in Information, January 1989.

On MALMROS: books—

Mogensen, John, Kundskabens træ: en film bliver til, Centrum, 1981.

Daneskov, Lars, and Kim Kristensen, Nils Malmros: Portræt af enfilmkunstner, Hovedland, 1989.

Conrad, Karen, Drengedrømme. Nils Malmros: en auteur, Amanda, 1991.

Conrad, Karen, Uskyld og tab, Dansklærerforeningen, 1992.

On MALMROS: articles—

Gandrup, Oluf, and Peter Kirkegaard, "Malmros' erindringsmageri: Bringing It All Back Home," in MacGuffin (East Melbourne), no. 48, December 1974.

Jørholt, Eva, "Erfaringens filmiske prisme," in Dansk film 1972–97, edited by Jesper Andersen, Ib Bondebjerg, and Peter Schepelern, Munksgaard-Rosinante, 1997.

Nissen, Danm "Alternativernes år, 1970–79," in Kosmorama, no. 220, 1997.

Schepelern, Peter, "And the Winner Is, 1980–89," in Kosmorama, no. 220, 1997.

* * *

It is quite characteristic of Nils Malmros that he planned to shoot his major work, Kundskabens træ (1981), over a period of four years so that his leading characters would experience for themselves the adolescence that the film portrays. For financial reasons the period turned out to be two years, but persistent insistence on realistic detail is one of the Århus director's trade marks; this is also why all his films until Barbara (1996) were set in the city where he grew up and has spent most of his life, and why most of his films are not only set in the city but also in the social conditions and the time when the director himself was the same age as his protagonists: the Århus of the 1950s and 1960s. Malmros's canon is a unique example of the local, personal aspects of an artist's touch achieving universal applicability.

Malmros is an autodidact who describes the loss of innocence with extreme consistency. He was a medical student when his great interest in film led him to his encounter with Truffaut's Jules et Jim (1961). This experience, and the analysis by the Danish writer Klaus Rifbjerg, inspired Malmros to try to make a Danish counterpart to Truffaut's masterpiece; a borrowed camera and money contributed by his parents, friends, and night duties at a hospital resulted in En mærkelig kærlighed, released in 1968. He had to struggle equally hard to persuade a cinema to screen the film. It was on the boards for two days and was cut to pieces by the critics.

The adolescent, unresolved plot and devastating reviews did not dissuade Malmros, and five years later came the release of Lars Ole, 5C (1973) about the everyday life of a twelve year old at school and at home, set in Århus in the 1950s. This film was also produced and financed privately, and only received public subsidies after it had been released and shown at Cannes. The following year it received the Copenhagen Film Critics' Bodil Award as the best Danish film of the year. It is composed as an apparently casual, impressionist chain of individual scenes using the art of suggestion to illustrate with extreme precision the complicated social and psychological interplay at work in 5C, Lars Ole's class at school. In the film Malmros demonstrates for the first time his unique ability to entice an arresting sincerity of acting, expression, and movement from his non-professional child actors and adolescents that not only allows viewers to perceive the laughter, but also the vulnerability. Lars Ole, 5C is a keen-edged, emotionally precise masterpiece of psychological realism.

His next films, Drenge (1977) and Kundskabens træ (1981), completed the trilogy on the vulnerable years and up through the 1970s and 1980s the medical student became one of the most important auteurs of Danish cinema. The titles reveal a development of his perspective from the specific to the non-specific to the mythological loss of innocence. In the latter, his self-awareness is clear. If anything, again and again Malmros's films are about the loss of innocence and thereby the fall of man. Drenge is sui generis a triptych: child, youth, and young adult, with emotionally inflamed, problem-packed relationships with the opposite sex at its center.

Malmros returns to Drenge in his metamovie Århus by Night (1989)—a salute to Truffaut's La nuit américaine (1973)—about the amateur director from Århus who is given a professional film unit to work with for the first time and thereby encounters not only Copenhageners but hardened pros who take every opportunity to make a fool of the amateur and his dispirited love affair. The loss of innocence is once again the focal point, but this time with self-reflecting humour. In Kundskabens træ the director tackles the years of adolescent proper, with its burgeoning sexuality, when emotions really come to a head and sensitivity is most pronounced. As in Lars Ole, 5C a school class is the pivotal point, but this time it is a class of 14- and 15-year-olds, and the cohesive story of development has a girl, Elin, at its center, who matures early and goes from being the leader of the class to its scapegoat. The director's alter ego is now christened Niels Ole. Elin's fall is due merely to the fact that she stands out from the crowd because of her early puberty and consequent desire to dance cheek-to-cheek; when she chooses older boys and rejects Helge, the most popular boy in the class, the bullying starts. The meticulous depiction of the lost years of childhood and the loss of innocence becomes magic realism borne by bittersweet insight and keen, but gentle psychological analysis. In its entire approach it is a film about childhood, but for adults.

After this trilogy Malmros partly abandoned autobiography in Skønheden og udyret (1983), which portrays a father's custody of his daughter's virtue with a suggestion of incestuous jealousy towards her friends and potential lovers. He then discovers that what he has guarded was lost long ago—to the person he would have least expected. If one wishes to pursue the semi-autobiographical angle it might be the adult director's relationship with his young cast, particularly in adolescence when they subconsciously know the difference between child and adult that children unconsciously transgress. In Kærlighedens smerte (1992) Malmros returns to the theme of Skønheden og udyret, this time with the father-daughter relationship as a teacher-pupil one, initiated by the young female pupil. It begins as a flirt, but turns into mutual relationship and marriage until Kirsten displays the manic-depressive characteristics that lead to the inevitable tragic suicidal conclusion. For a director who has cultivated suggestion and shrunk from grand passion, this is a film of unusually powerful emotional depth, an intense, deeply tragic film about a person who is "in her own pocket," as she says. We recall the director's medical background, but the film is not a psychiatric case study; on the contrary, it is a portrayal of the unfathomable pain and the ecstatic happiness that may both be part of being a human being.

With Barbara (1997), Malmros leaves Århus for the first time, and thus the stuff of which all his memories are made, to base a film on a Danish literary classic set in the Faeroe Islands in the eighteenth century. The Barbara of the title is the sensual, irrepressible focal point of the islands, a woman who obeys her desires and sets men's hearts ablaze, including that of the young pastor, who marries her, well aware that she is more than he can manage. We rediscover the encounter of innocence with another universe, along with echoes of visual and narrative features from Nils Malmros's two previous films. But Malmros is not on home ground, and the loss of innocence does not quite possess the same painful sincerity and resonance of knowledge that we have grown accustomed to.

—Dan Nissen