Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Mixed feelings as COVID clip snowbirds wings
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
Daily fall forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
Lord of the Rings, A History of Violence star's film premieres across the East Coast during 2020 FIN Atlantic International Film Festival
Viggo Mortensen famously took on the dreaded Nazgul Ringwraiths in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and the brutal forces of organized crime led by a scar-faced Ed Harris in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence.
But in his directorial debut Falling, his character John Petersen has to come to terms with a figure who’s just as formidable: his own father Willis, played by veteran actor and onscreen force of nature, Lance Henrikson.
The battle of wills between John and Willis, whose undying rage at the hand fate has dealt him propels each scene, plays out on home screens around the East Coast Thursday and Friday as the opening gala presentation of FIN Stream, the online edition of the 2020 FIN Atlantic International Film Festival.
Trailer for Viggo Mortensen’s Fallen, starring Lance Henriksen. Language warning.
The story takes place on the Petersen farm in upstate New York, and the Los Angeles home John shares with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and adopted daughter Monica (Gabby Velis), where Henrikson’s Willis, in a bravura performance, bristles at the thought of moving, and unleashes a torrent of hurtful, hateful and homophobic invective as his ageing mind slips in and out of focus.
What won’t be immediately apparent is the way that Mortensen’s story about the changing nature of families, and the obligations from one generation to another, has its roots here in Nova Scotia.
Speaking via Zoom from his home in Madrid, the three-time Oscar-nominated actor and filmmaker explains that his maternal grandfather Walter Sidney Atkinson was born and raised in Parrsboro, and it was the chain of that family history that kickstarted Falling’s story.
“I was thinking about my mother a lot, this was right after her funeral,” says Mortensen. “And as you do, right after someone close to you passes, you meet up with friends and friends of theirs — sometimes people you’ve never met — and you hear stories.
“Most of them familiar, about the person who’s deceased, and sometimes some new ones. In this case, I heard all kinds of things; stories I knew, but different versions of them, memory being quite subjective, as we also see in Falling.”
This year, FIN's Gala Presentations lineup features online screenings at 7 p.m. AT each night of FIN Stream, with...Posted by FIN Atlantic International Film Festival on Sunday, September 13, 2020
Family memories inspire story
He began by writing down memories of his mother, the daughter of a Nova Scotian, and his Denmark-born father, while unable to sleep on a trans-Atlantic flight. As he started piecing together some of the stories of their life, a new story began to emerge.
“I quickly left the notes behind, and invented another family as a way of dealing with those thoughts I was having about my mom and my dad,” he recalls. “It was a short story, and I looked at it some days later ... and I thought it would be kind of sketchy.
“But it actually had a good structure, and liked the way the subjectivity of memory was treated, and its different times and different places. It was an interesting jigsaw puzzle, and I thought it would be a challenging script to write, but it could be a good movie.”
Long before cameras started rolling in rural Ontario, Mortensen knew that Henriksen would be perfect to portray the Willis he saw in his mind, and wouldn’t back down from the degree of bile his character’s mind relays throughout the film.
They’d only worked together once before, in the Harris-directed western Appaloosa in 2008, but Mortensen’s memories of that experience confirmed his decision to cast his former co-star.
“I got along with him well, I enjoyed watching him work on that movie, and I enjoyed talking with him too,” he recalls. “He seemed like a good storyteller, he had a good sense of humour, and as we know from seeing him in so many different roles, he has a great presence and voice.
“He’s a very meticulous actor, and years later when I was working on this script, trying to think of who would be the best one for Willis, I just had a feeling he would be really great. And he would surprise people.”
Mortensen believes Henriksen will ‘blow people’s minds’
Mortensen calls Henriksen, who came to prominence in The Right Stuff and Aliens, a gutsy performer who goes for it every time out. He knew he would deliver a performance that would “blow people’s minds,”, although the director says after early screenings, he’s heard some angry reactions to Willis’s unrelenting, misanthropic behaviour.
But the point of the film is asking whether we can find love for, or in, someone who on the surface of things seems unlovable.
“If we arbitrarily decide we’re only going to pay attention to — much less show affection to — people that we decide ‘deserve it’, the world would be in even more of a mess than it is right now,” says Mortensen.
“Fortunately, people go the extra mile, even when others don’t seem to deserve it. It’s called being a human being, having some humanity, some empathy, some compassion, some patience.”
You might recognize Viggo Mortensen from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, EASTERN PROMISES & THE ROAD. Now, he’s made his directorial debut w/ FALLING, which he also wrote & stars in! It’s our Opening Night Gala on September 17. Use the link in bio for $2 off your ticket! (Be sure to select the blue “SHARE THIS EVENT” button at checkout.)
Finding love where it’s long been buried
Mortensen feels a key component to defining the dynamic between John and his father was taking notice of how readily people will write off friends or family members when they don’t see eye to eye. It’s practically an internet meme, talking about that racist relative you only see at Thanksgiving, or letting slights compound until there’s seemingly no getting around them.
“When people say Willis is relentless, it’s because he has to go way over the line, way too far, for us to merit where the movie ends up, in my opinion,” asserts the director. “Other people wonder why (John) is so patient, why he puts up with this crap, but ideally you’ll notice that it’s not very easy for him to put up with it.
“In one scene he says, speaking very slowly and trying to stay calm, ‘I promised myself ... I wasn’t going to get into another big blow-out. You can insult me all you want, but I’m not going to engage you on that level; I’m trying to help you.’ ”
And as Falling shows us, finding love in the face of all that, can be as great a challenge as marching into Mordor or single-handedly taking on the mob.
Falling is available to view through the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival website at www.finfestival.ca, where you can also find tickets, starting at 7 p.m. and is only streaming for 24 hours. It is followed by a special pre-recorded Q&A with Mortensen and co-star Bracken Burns, who plays Willis’s second wife Jill.