In 1632, at the age of 6, Kristina Vasa became the first native, female sovereign of Sweden when her father died on the battlefield. Raised as a prince, Kristina grows up with ideas for modernizing Sweden and bringing an end to war. She struggles against the conservative forces in court who have no tolerance for these ideas nor for her awakening sexuality and quest for knowledge.
Queen Kristina is an enigmatic young woman, beloved by her father, rejected by her mother and raised in a conservative Lutheran court. She is torn between reason and passion; between the ancient and modern worlds and the brilliance of her educated and curious mind and the pressures in an empire determined to uphold tradition.
Upon her ascent to the Swedish throne, Kristina is thrust into a labyrinth of power in a court dominated by men. They believe she has no other destiny than to marry to produce an heir for the good of the kingdom. Kristina refuses and instead pushes to modernize Sweden. Even her closest ally and the person charged with her upbringing, Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, expects her to uphold tradition in the fragile political climate and has aspirations for her to carry on the family bloodline with his son, Johan. In her official inaugural speech at the age of 18, Kristina pronounces her intention to end thirty years of war between Catholics and Protestants and to educate her subjects. Her quest for knowledge draws her to the philosopher, René Descartes and the French Ambassador, Pierre Hector Chanut, who becomes a life-long friend. She has many suitors, although she refuses them all, intent on pursuing her ideas and fulfilling her duty as queen. Kristina becomes interested in her lady-in-waiting, the beautiful and elegant Countess Ebba Sparre. She anoints her the Queen’s Bed Companion, an important position held by those designated to warm the sheets of their ruler.
The men of the court believe that Ebba is the key to controlling their Queen. They seize Ebba and convince her to marry Count Jakob de la Gardie, to whom she was engaged before meeting Kristina. They underestimate both Kristina’s brilliant tactical mind and her awakening discovery of passion and love. At the same time under the tutelage of Descartes she discovers the idea of “free will,” a philosophy at odds with the Lutheran belief in “God’s will.” Kristina is faced with choosing between her country, her father, her people and her religion and living as “who she wants to be.” She chooses to take control of her destiny and to find freedom.
Mika Kaurismäki is the director of THE GIRL KING and his first film THE LIAR (1980) was an overnight sensation, when first shown in Finland; it marked the beginning of the cinema of the Kaurismäki brothers and started a new era in the Finnish cinema.
Mika Kaurismäki studied cinema in Munich, Germany, (Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen) 1977-1981. After the success of THE LIAR, Mika Kaurismäki decided to stay in Finland and together with his brother, Aki, and some friends he founded the production company
Villealfa Filmproductions, which soon became a home of low- or no-budget film making in Finland. The Villealfa film family included the actors Matti Pellonpää and Kari Väänänen and the cinematographer Timo Salminen. Mika Kaurismäki’s films of this era include among others the road movies THE WORTHLESS (1982) and ROSSO (1985), the action comedy HELSINKI NAPOLI – ALL NIGHT LONG”(1987) and the environmental adventure THE
AMAZON (1990). Mika co-founded the legendary Midnight Sun Film Festival (1986) and the distribution company Senso Films (1987) and the Andorra cinemas in Helsinki.
The 90s meant a gradual disappearance of the Villealfa spirit and both Mika and Aki started to produce their films through their own production companies. Mika founded Marianna Films in 1987 and its first independent production was the award winning ZOMBIE AND THE GHOST TRAIN (1991). In 1994 Mika returned to the Brazilian jungle with Samuel Fuller and Jim Jarmusch and made the feature length documentary TIGRERO – A FILM THAT WAS NEVER MADE. The film was awarded the International Critics’ Award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Mika established his second home in Rio de Janeiro and started to concentrate more in international co-productions. In 1996 in Philadelphia he directed the no-budget thriller CONDITION RED with James Russo, Cynda Williams and Paul Calderon and in 1998 he directed the comedy LA WITHOUT A MAP, with David Tennant, July Delpy, Vincent Gallo, Johnny Depp, James Le Gros, Anouk Aimee, Joe Dallesandro.The new millenium started for Mika with the production of MORO NO BRASIL, the praised documentary of Brazilian music. During the production of this film he also opened a live music club Mika’s Bar in Rio de Janeiro, but gave it up later and decided to concentrate primarily on filmmaking. In 2003 he directed HONEY BABY, a road movie set between Germany and Russia, starring Henry Thomas, Irina Björklund and Helmut Berger.
BRASILEIRINHO, a film about Brazilian choro music, which premiered at the Berlinale 2005 and SONIC MIRROR, a film with legendary drummer Billy Cobham, in Nyon 2007. In 2008 Mika directed the award winning THREE WISE MEN. THE HOUSE OF BRANCHING LOVE premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. He followed up with VESKU FROM FINLAND in 2010, which continued his success with audiences.
MAMA AFRICA about famed South African singer, the late Miriam Makeba won the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival. ROAD NORTH, a dramatic comedy starring two Finnish icons, Vesa-Matti Loiri and Samuli Edelmann, premiered in Finland in 2012, and has been a success with more than 300,000 views, making it one of the most popular films in Finland.
THE KING – JARI LITMANEN, which Mika produced, is a story of famed professional football (soccer) player Jari Litmanen, often referred as the “king.” His most recent film, the Finnish drama comedy starring Vesa-Matti Loiri, Armi Toivonen and Peter Franzén, HOME COMING (Elämältä kaiken sain), will premiere in August 2015.
Bijan Tehrani: What was your main motivation in making of THE GIRL KING?
Mika Kaurismäki: I always found Queen Kristina an incredibly interesting subject for a film. She was a revolutionary free thinker, a connoisseur of art and science, a precursor of the feminist movement, a strong and visionary politician, a new European. But at the same time she was a confused, restless, eccentric and isolated young woman. And because she was so much ahead of her time, her ideas are modern even today. Through this unique personality I wanted to portray a modern human being – to break into the labyrinth of a human mind, as that is exactly where Queen Kristina found herself in a labyrinth of political plotting and critical personal decisions.
BT: Please tell us about pre-production stage of your film and research you did about the period of the film and your main characters?
MK: We did a very elaborate research on Queen Kristina and her time in order to gather as much information on her and the main characters of the story. The pre-production was rather short but the development period was very long, I started to work on this already in the year 2000; so I had a lot of time to read and research about her. There’re quite many books and other documents written about her and the 17th century Sweden in general, which helped us to create some kind of a real picture of her and the life in her court. We also researched costumes, castles, habits of that time so that our film would be accurate and correct.
BT: In writing the script did you try to be faithful to the history or you created events that helps the drama?
MK: I wasn’t the screenwriter, but of course I worked closely with him. Like I already mentioned, we did an elaborate research on all fronts in order to be faithful to the historical facts, so practically everything in the story is based on research and documents. Of course we allowed us some artistic and dramatic freedom in some details, but the story itself is pretty much faithful to the history and to the real characters it describes.
BT: Even one may suppose THE GIRL KING is a period film, I found it still relevant to today’s world and struggles that independent women go through around the world in different levels, was this intentional?
MK: Yes, it was definitely intentional. Even if the story is set in the 17th century, my intention was not to make a traditional epic costume film but an intense, actor-centered, psychological drama about Queen Kristina, who would be modern even today. If you look at today’s world and Europe, nothing much has changed in this regard; the world is full of religious wars and women are still fighting for their rights. And young people are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, what decisions to make in order to survive and be happy. When I made the film, I never thought of Kristina as a figure out of a museum, but as a young modern woman trying to find her own way and I hope the audience will see these parallels from Kristina’s time to ours.
BT: How did you go about casting your film and how did you work with the actors? Was there a lot of rehearsal time?
MK: There are many big roles in the story, but of course my first and biggest challenge was to find the right actress to play the queen as it’s a role that influences everything else in the film. I was lucky to find Malin Buska. She hadn’t done much film work before, this is in fact her first lead role. I didn’t know anything about her, before I happened to see a Swedish film ”Happy end” with Malin. Immediately when I saw her on the screen, I felt something special and could see her as Queen Kristina. After that I arranged a meeting with her in Stockholm, which confirmed my first impression of her right, she felt like Queen Kristina. I was surprised to find out that she knew a lot about her, even her second name is Kristina, after Queen Kristina! Her mother and grandmother were great Kristina fans, so Malin had grown up hearing many stories about her.
Only after casting Kristina, I started looking more at other roles. Michael Nyqvist was my absolute favorite for the role of Axel Oxenstjärna and I was very happy, when he agreed to come onboard. The same goes for Sarah Gadon as Ebba Sparre. The Girl King is an international co-production, so the cast also is quite international and I was blessed to be able to work with an amazing ensemble of actors, like Martina Gedeck, Patrick Bauchau, Lucas Bryant, Francois Arnaud, Laura Birn and many others.
The budget was very tight, which meant we didn’t have much rehearsal time, and the same goes for the principal photography: I had only 37 shooting days, which, I think, is really not much for a film like this. Luckily I had had a lot of time to meet and speak with Malin about Queen Kristina’s character and role, so when we finally started shooting, we both knew what the character was about. We were on the same level, which was very helpful during the short shoot. Of course I also discussed and rehearsed or read a little bit with the other actors, so everyone knew what we were doing, otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible to finish the shoot in 37 days.
BT: THE GIRL KING has a very unique visual style, how did you come up with this style?
MK: Thank you. The visual style was created by trying to combine the external look with the internal one, trying to make the look of the characters and the setting and the time, the austerity of the Lutheran courts, the castle and its hallways accessible in order to put us inside Kristina working her way out. Performance being”internal” the image is”close”. The world of dark and light, almost black and white of the setting encountering from time to time splashes of color and brilliance of the new and revolutionary ideas. The aim was to make the film a “period piece” of this period: a period of thought captured in a look, “in the mood” of the period.
BT: THE GIRL KING has been shot mostly in English, why you made this decision and has it helped with marketing of the film?
MK: I’ve been asked a few times about the language, why English and not Swedish? But in real life they spoke French in the court those days, and as English is nowadays the international language in the world we felt English was right. And of course, our cast was international, so English felt like the only reasonable language for the film. The decision to shoot in English wasn’t made based on any marketing strategy.
BT: Please tell us about your next project
MK: In fact I already shot my next film right after wrapping THE GIRL KING. It’s a Finnish speaking drama comedy”The Homecoming”. It’s a film about a father-daughter relationship, where a middle-aged woman decides to change her life and move from the capital city back to her small native hometown. She would take care of her old and sick father and through the familiar atmosphere of her childhood landscape find her real himself again. The grand plan seems perfect – until life hits the fan. The coexistence between the daughter and the father turns out much more complicated than they had expected.
The film was released this fall in Finland. Currently I’m developing new scripts both in Finland and outside.