Malou Reymann on A Perfectly Normal Family

Sometimes a film title tells you exactly what you need to know, like the delicate Danish drama A Perfectly Normal Family, winner of IFFR’s Big  Screen Competition. ‘The film is about a perfectly normal family, it seems’, says actress and filmmaker Malou Reymann. ‘But it turns out the father is transgender and feels like a woman.’

“The story is based on my own experience of my father’s sex change when I was 11”, says Reymann about her feature film debut A Perfectly Normal Family. “Obviously that perspective was close to my heart, and I felt that I could tell that story. But I also felt like having that perspective enabled a different approach to the subject, where it became more about a family undergoing a big change, and not so much about the specifics of undergoing a sex change.”

She emphasises that A Perfectly Normal Family is not a literal adaptation of her life story. “It was never the premise that the actors should look like me or anyone of my family. Intentionally, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard [seen at IFFR 2016 in Land of Mine, red.], who plays the father, didn’t meet my father until after filming was done, because we didn’t want it to be as it was. We didn’t want Mikkel to feel like he was portraying a real person. Instead everyone felt the freedom to create characters from within themselves, rather than mirroring something they saw in others.”

Reymann felt it was important to keep one autobiographical detail in the film: the period in which the film takes place, the nineties. “There was a different kind of naivety in the nineties. People didn’t necessarily know what it meant, being transgender. There wasn’t a lot of focus on it and there were very few people who actually underwent this transition”, she says. “The way people see it now is very different. Caitlyn Jenner was on the cover of Vogue and it felt like that suddenly made it mainstream. Now, everyone relates to the subject, everyone knows someone who is also a transgender person. That’s not at all how it was in the nineties. It was important to tell the story in that period, to be truthful to the naivety we experienced as a family.”

A Perfectly Normal Family had its world premiere at IFFR. The Netherlands are special to Reymann. “I was born in Holland. I don’t speak Dutch anymore unfortunately, but it’s a very loving memory I have of living in Amsterdam. Being able to screen my film here in Rotterdam is amazing.”

On Friday, A Perfectly Normal Family took the prize from a selection of nine films in IFFR’s Big Screen Competition. It’s a special prize, as the winner of the VPRO Big Screen Award is chosen by an audience jury of five film fanatics. “A truly moving film that goes beyond the sensitive subject of gender reassignment”, states the jury. “The film shows family struggles that are relatable to anyone.”

The jury praises young actress Kaya Toft Loholt as eleven-year-old Emma, the film version of young Reymann. This is her acting debut. In the words of the jury: “As the unconditional love between father and daughter is challenged by her father’s transitioning, the film closely captures, in intimate detail, all the different phases the young girl has to go through.”

A Perfectly Normal Family wins a guaranteed release in Dutch theatres and will be broadcast on Dutch public television channel NPO 2. Of the €30,000 in prize money, €15,000 goes towards the production of the filmmaker’s next project and €15,000 is spent on the winning film’s theatrical release. “The film gives rise to many emotions and considerations”, stated the jury. “It surely deserves to be experienced by a wider audience.”

Written by Bregtje Schudel

Photo in header: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (L), filmmaker Malou Reymann (M), Kaya Toft Loholt (R) @ Marwan Magroun