Tag Archives: Sex

Make or break-up

Writer Clara Mendes and director Amalie Næsby Fick tell DQ how Danish shortform drama Sex charts a young woman’s journey through a complicated web of sexuality, gender and relationships.

For writers, the inspiration behind an idea for a series is often a personal experience. That was certainly the case for Clara Mendes, whose can trace the foundations of her six-part shortform drama Sex to a break-up she experienced when she was 22.

The series introduces Cathrine (Asta Kamma August), a young woman paralysed by conflicting emotions of confusion and desire. At home, she is in a relationship with Simon (Jonathan Bergholdt Jørgensen), who is her best friend but has lost his desire for sex. After staying late one night at the office where she works as a sex counsellor, she shares a drunken kiss with her colleague Selma (Nina Terese Rask) that leaves her torn between safe, familiar Simon and her new, exciting crush. And when Cathrine lies to protect the people she cares about, she ends up making the situation worse.

Produced by Profile Pictures for TV2 Denmark and distributed by Reinvent Studios, the drama was screened in full at Berlinale earlier this year. It marks the first series as lead writer for Mendes, who worked for Nordisk Film before joining the Danish Film School to study screenwriting in 2017.

“Two things happened when I was developing the series,” she tells DQ. “One, I was going through my first break-up. I was 22 at the time, and now I can see I was in the process of my own coming out, even though it’s not a coming-out story.

“I also became interested in the Danish sex information call centre Cathrine works at. I was fascinated by the fact it was young people in their 20s giving advice to other young people about sex, gender and body issues. Then the cliché about being better at giving advice than following your own seemed very true, and true to my own life and situation at the time.”

L-R: Sex writer Clara Mendes, producer Marta Mleczek and director Amalie Næsby Fick

While Mendes didn’t know exactly how the story would unfold when she first started writing, she was certain that Cathrine’s sexuality should not be the main focus of the series. “I knew what I was working with, and it was a fiction story, but I wasn’t fully aware of what lied behind it,” she continues.

“It would have been very nice for me growing up if, in all the stories about people being gay or bisexual, that was not the conflict of the story or something that made their friends shun them or their families cut them off. We tried to make Catrine’s fluid sexuality not the problem, but just part of the story.”

Developing the series for 18 months alongside producer Marta Mleczek, Mendes then found her creative match with director Amalie Næesby Fick, who agrees that Sex is the kind of show she wished she could have watched growing up.

“When I first read the script, it really shocked me. If this had been in my life as a reference for conversation in my life as a teenager, it would have meant the world, trying to nuance the whole language of sex and relationships and gender sexuality,” she explains.

“I also felt growing up that it was only gay characters portrayed and it was not as nuanced or fluid as sexuality really is. We wanted to do something relatable where sexuality is not a problem and where you can look up to these characters because they’re normal, relatable and cool but not out of this world.”

From the outset, Sex was always designed to be a shortform series, created in response to a call from TV2 for stories told in bite-size episodes. The format did not dictate the style or pace of the series, however, with Mendes and Næesby Fick wanting to focus on character and emotion and allowing time for the drama and humour to unfold slowly. They also paid particular attention to Cathrine’s environment, with the character living in a small apartment with Simon and working in an unremarkable call centre office.

The series centres on Cathrine (Asta Kamma August), who must choose between her boyfriend, Simon (Jonathan Bergholdt Jørgensen), and a new love interest

“That was super important for us because there are other shows in Denmark where young people are super rich, even though it’s not a part of the story,” the director says. “They just work in ordinary jobs, but they’re super rich and have a jet-setting lifestyle. That creates a distance [between the characters and the viewers], so we wanted to make it real in the sense of normal economics for young people. We also did not have makeup artist on the set, so there’s no makeup at all, only when they’re at a party – and then they did the makeup themselves.”

Central to the series is Cathrine, who features in every scene. Mendes describes her as “ordinary,” adding: “She’s full of flaws but she means the best. She has a hard time talking about the hard stuff and she’s very shy of conflict, so she avoids it all through the show.

“She has all these conflicted feelings about being rejected by her partner and being attracted to someone else. Instead of taking the bull by the horns, she avoids talking about what’s really hurting her and how much in doubt she is about everything. She’s trying to figure it out herself but she just ends up hurting everyone, including herself.”

On casting the role of Cathrine, Næesby Fick adds: “It was especially important for us to cast an actor who was very likeable, warm and humorous because the character is actually fucking up from episode one and doing many unsympathetic things – not by choice, but they just happen. Asta is just an amazing talent. It was also easy to have her in every scene because she’s so, so good.”

Like Mendes, Næesby Fick’s work on Sex marked her first on a TV drama, having previously worked in animation. She admits to being nervous at the prospect of the busy three-week shoot but says her “wonderful” team made the process stress-free.

The love triangle is completed by Selma (Nina Terese Rask, right)

“It became a very personal project for all of us,” the director continues. “It was very much about sharing different, vulnerable and funny stories from our own youth. We quickly became this unit, all of us collaborating.

“I was also nervous about how to do the sex scenes, but we made a decision that Asta would have the final cut. It’s not normally done like that, but it was very important this was a collaboration, and she’s putting so much of herself and her body into this. I was so nervous of crossing some of her own personal limits, but knowing that, in the editing room, we could just remove things if there were any problems was nice for her and for me.”

As an increasing number of productions utilise intimacy coordinators and place more emphasis on how sex scenes are filmed, Næesby Fick says Sex’s intimate moments were choreographed in detail beforehand with just the fully dressed actors and the cinematographer present so everybody knew how they would play out.

“We don’t want to objectify the body,” she adds. “We want to be with [Cathrine’s] emotions in the sex scenes. That was a very good experience for all of the actors and myself.”

Mendes emphasises that the emotion of the characters in a particular moment is more important than the sex itself. “Showing sex scenes was a natural part of the story, but it was very important for me that every sex scene had a turning point for Cathrine,” she says.

“All the emotions came out of having or not having sex. That’s the exciting thing,” Næesby Fick adds. “‘Sex’ is a very clickbait title, – ‘Relationship’ or ‘Sexual Emotions’ would be a very crappy title.”

A second season of the shortform show is in the works

Filming took place on location across Copenhagen, including at the city’s real sex-focused call centre that contributed to a lot of Mendes’s research. The most challenging element of the series wasn’t in production, however, but in ensuring that Cathrine and Simon’s relationship was one viewers would root for.

“We didn’t want to make the choice [Cathrine has between Simon and Selma] too easy,” the writer says. “They had to have a relationship that was worth fighting for, even though someone else appears exciting, new and shiny. It was hard to make that relationship believable and flawed. But we had to build all the characters so they weren’t just functions in Cathrine’s story.”

Næesby Fick says the duo faced a lot of questions about Simon’s character, largely based on an assumption that if he didn’t want sex, he must be either impotent or gay. “Those were the only two options people could think of if a guy doesn’t want to have sex, so [his character] became more important to us,” she explains.

“The thing where a guy should want to have sex all the time and a woman should want to have sex when the man wants to have sex – that whole way of thinking was important for us [to address]. When we met Jonathan, who plays Simon, he was just the right balance of having this very calm energy that Cathrine doesn’t have, while not being boring. That was the hardest part, but it was made a lot easier when we met Jonathan.”

Mendes and Næesby Fick are now planning season two, which is set to focus on Nanna (Sara Fanta Traore), Cathrine’s best friend, while Reinvent Studios is in talks to send Sex into more than 100 territories worldwide.

“I hope it’s a universal story,” Mendes says of the show’s international appeal. “That’s what we tried to make – a story about how hard relationships, close relationships and monogamous relationships are to maintain.

“Cathrine loves her boyfriend. She’s just also falling in love with someone else, and the story is about not being able to talk about the hard stuff. If she was able to share her mixed emotions, maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so much. That’s something we hope all audiences will take from it, as well as the part about how sexuality is fluid and complicated, not just one thing and not black or white.

“All these assumptions we have about the sexuality of men and the sexuality of women, and how the relationship and the dynamic should be between them, may be also be why it’s so hard to talk about,” Mendes adds. “We just hope people see this and maybe feel a little bit less wrong about themselves and how they’re flawed or making the wrong choices, because we also want there to be hope.”

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Berlin calling

With television now well and truly matching the star power of the movie business, DQ runs the rule over the TV series getting red-carpet premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival, which kicks off today.  

As the Berlin International Film Festival, aka the Berlinale, begins today, the red carpet will be rolled out for screen stars from all over the world. But it’s not just the movies that will be celebrated over the next 11 days.

For the past few years, television has played an increasingly important and visible part of the annual event, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2020. This year will be no different, with eight series – from Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the UK and the US – enjoying world or international premieres.

The Berlinale Series strand will introduce shows that feature representations of various communities, sexual identities and new perspectives on the world today, while the selection also plays vividly with ideas of television style, structure and tone.

Dispatches from Elsewhere comes from How I Met Your Mother star Jason Segel

First up will be Dispatches from Elsewhere, the AMC series starring Jason Segel, Eve Lindley, Sally Field, André Benjamin and Richard E Grant. Creator Segel (How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) also co-directs the series, in which an enigmatic institute promises a chosen few an escape from everyday life into a world full of beauty and magic. But is this a game, an alternative reality or a conspiracy? And what are those taking part risking?

Dark Austrian drama Freud, meanwhile, transports viewers to 1886 Vienna, where a young Sigmund Freud (Robert Finster) – restless, high on cocaine and striving for recognition – embarks on a nerve-wracking, hypnotic trip into the depths of the human soul with a mysterious medium and a traumatised policeman. Directed by Marvin Kren (4 Blocks) for Austria’s ORF and Netflix, the show’s cast also includes Ella Rumpf, Georg Friedrich, Christoph Krutzler, Brigitte Kren, Anja Kling, Philipp Hochmair and Noah Saavedra.

Canada’s C’est comme ça que je t’aime (Happily Married) is set in 1970s Quebec

From Canada is C’est comme ça que je t’aime (Happily Married), which is set in Quebec in 1974. The drama tells the story of two couples who send their kids off to camp for three weeks. With their children away, things quickly turn uncomfortable for the couples and cracks start to appear in the facades of their relationships. The series was created by François Létourneau, who also stars alongside Patrice Robitaille, Marilyn Castonguay, Karine Gonthier-Hyndman and Sophie Desmarais. Joanne Forgues is the showrunner on the programme, which  was commissioned by Radio-Canada Télé and Tou.Tv Extra.

British entry Trigonometry focuses on a couple who take in a lodger. The trio fall in love together and start up a three-way relationship – but can it possibly work out? The BBC and HBO Max series was created by Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods, with Thalissa Teixeira, Gary Carr and Ariane Labed playing the central trio. Athina Rachel Tsangari and Stella Corradi are the directors.

Also due to premiere at Berlinale is the second season of Australian drama Mystery Road, which has added The Bridge star Sofia Helin to its cast. The ABC series, created by Ivan Sen, opens when a headless corpse is found floating by the shore of a remote outback town. As if this weren’t mysterious enough, Detective Swan and his colleague Fran have to contend with protests against the excavation of an Indigenous site. And then another body turns up. Aaron Pedersen returns as Detective Swan, alongside actors Jada Alberts and Callan Mulvey. The directors are Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair.

British drama Trigonometry centres on a three-way relationship

Shortform drama Sex, from Denmark’s TV2, comprises six episodes with a total running time of 77 minutes and will be screened in its entirety at the festival. Created by Clara Mendes and directed by Amalie Næesby Fick, the show follows Catherine, a call-centre worker giving advice on sex and love but at a loss herself. After a kiss, she wants more from her colleague Selma. Her boyfriend Simon feels that what’s little is actually plenty. But what if that’s not enough? The cast includes Asta Kamma August, Jonathan Bergholdt Jørgensen, Nina Terese Rask and Sara Fanta Traore.

Stateless, another drama from ABC Australia, boasts an all-star cast led by Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale), Jai Courtney, Asher Keddie, Fayssal Bazzi, Dominic West and Cate Blanchett, who co-creates and executive produces the six-part series. Directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse, it tells the story of four strangers whose lives collide at an immigration detention centre in the middle of the Australian desert. Elise McCredie and Tony Ayres co-created the series alongside Blanchett.

Yvonne Strahovski in Stateless

The final premiere will be Netflix’s upcoming musical drama The Eddy (pictured top), created by Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials) and Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning director of La La Land, who is also the lead director on the series. Bandleader Elliot is improvising his way through a complex score of problems: his Parisian jazz club The Eddy isn’t doing too well, while ruthless debt collectors are breathing down his neck – and then his teenage daughter Julie arrives from New York. The cast features André Holland, Joanna Kulig, Amandla Stenberg, Tahar Rahim, Leila Bekhti, Adil Dehbi and Benjamin Biolay.

Themes of macabre humour, female sexuality and an interconnected world will be on display through the eight shows, while the increasing trend for actors to be more deeply involved in series creation and development – notably Blanchett (Stateless) and Segel (Dispatches from Elsewhere) – is also apparent.

At a time when the distinction between movies and television is increasingly blurred, the focus Berlinale places on series marks it out from other film festivals around the world, though other events are now also pushing the small screen into the spotlight.

Meanwhile, numerous other screenings will also take place at the city’s Zoo Palast, with shows including Ukraine’s Hide & Seek,  Czech drama The Sleepers, Brazilian series Where My Heart Is, UK/New Zealand coproduction The Luminaries and Australia’s Total Control among them.

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