Henning-Jensen, Astrid (1914—)

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Henning-Jensen, Astrid (1914—)

Danish film director and screenwriter. Born Astrid Smahl on December 10, 1914, in Frederiksberg, Denmark; married Bjarne Henning-Jensen (1908-1995), on August 10, 1938; children: Lars.


Catholic Film Office Award, Cannes Festival for Paw (1960); Best Director, Berlin Film Festival for Winter Children (1979).

Filmography—director or co-director with husband Bjarne Henning-Jensen:

SOS Kindtand (1943); Nar man kun er ung (1943); De danske sydhavsoer (Danish Island, 1944); Flykningar finnar en hamm (Fugitives Find Shelter, 1944); Dansk politi I Sverige (The Danish Brigade in Sweden, 1945); Skibet er ladet med (1945); Ditte Menneskebarn (Ditte, Child of Man, 1946); Stemning I April (Impressions of April, 1947); De pokkers unger (Those Blasted Kids, 1947); Denmark Grows Up (1947); Kristimus Bergman (1948); Palle Allene I Verden (Palle, Alone in the World, 1949); Vesterhavsdrenge (Boys from the West Coast, 1950); Kranes konditori (Krane's Bakery Shop, 1951); Ukjent man (Unknown Man, 1952); Better than Cure (1953); Solstik (1953); Tivoligarden Spiler (Tivoli Garden Games, 1954); Ballettens boern (Ballet Girl, 1954); Kaerlighed pa kredit (Love On Credit, 1955); Hest pa sommerferie (Horse on Holiday, 1959); Paw, Boy of Two Worlds (1960); Forraederiet (1962); Kviden og soldaten (1962); Een blandt mange (1962); Den jagede (1963); Der er noget I luften (1964); Et minde om to mandage (1964); Vend dig ikke om (1964); De bla undulater (1965); Min bedstefar er en stok (1967); Nille, Utro (Unfaithful, 1968); Mej och dej (Me and You, 1969); Vinterboern (Winterborn, 1978); Ojeblikket (1980); Hodia fra Pjort (1985); Barndommens gade (Streets of My Childhood, 1986); Bella min Bella (Bella, My Bella, 1995).

Astrid Smahl began her career as an actor in the Copenhagen theater where she met fellow actor Bjarne Henning-Jensen. The two married in 1938. Within a couple of years, Bjarne began work as a film director for Nordisk Films Kompagni; Astrid was his assistant director. The couple worked on several undistinguished films before making their breakthrough Ditte Menneskebarn in 1943 which established them as the most promising co-directorial team in Danish cinema. An adaptation of a five-part novel by Martin Andersen-Nexo, Ditte Menneskebarn concerns a girl from the country, born illegitimate, who herself becomes an unwed mother and thus a victim of her social circumstances. Starkly realistic, the film was a turning point for Danish cinema and certainly for the Henning-Jensens whose feature films had been lightweight comedies.

While continuing to make realistic features in the style of Ditte Menneskebarn, though none were as successful, the Henning-Jensens collaborated on many documentaries, most notably, Dansk politi I Sverige (The Danish Brigade in Sweden, 1945), using sophisticated technology. Brilliantly edited, the film reenacts the training of 200 Danish officers who fled the German occupation and is often considered a stylistic fore-runner to American director, Errol Morris' controversial film, The Thin Blue Line, which also stretched the limits of the documentary. It too was a "reenactment."

Astrid Henning-Jensen, who made her first solo film in 1945, continued to work either alone or in collaboration with her husband until his retirement in 1974. Subsequently, she made a number of documentaries and features in Denmark, Norway, and Geneva, Switzerland, where she worked for UNESCO. In her documentaries, as well as her feature films, Henning-Jensen explores the everyday lives of working-class men and women. Her films often combine dreamlike fantasies conjured by child heroes who must cope with and live in a world filled with the harsh realities of poverty and loss of innocence. Palle, Alone in the World (1949) is an example of such a film and is one of the few Henning-Jensen films that found an international audience.

Though Henning-Jensen may not be well-known worldwide, she is celebrated in Denmark, and her career has spanned six decades. Her film Bella min Bella (Bella, My Bella), released in 1995, the year the director turned 80, earned her the Berlinale Camera at Berlin in 1996. The movie, based on her own experiences and that of a friend, revolves around Bella who is in her late teens and lives with her mother Maj. The two are very close. But when Maj flirts with their male tenant, Bella distances herself from her mother by turning her attention to a young Bosnian refugee in search of asylum. At film's end, Bella discovers that she needs her mother more than ever. In 1996, Henning-Jensen also appeared as herself in the Danish film Danske piger user alt (Danish Girls Show Everything).


Foster, Gwendolyn. Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Kuhn, Annette, and Susannah Radstone, ed. The Women's Companion to International Film. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994.

Lyon, Christopher. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Chicago, IL: St. James, 1984.

Deborah Jones , Studio City, California