• Interviews

Christian Lollike: ‘I want to explore alternative tones in my films’

The Cake Factory is Christian Lollike’s first feature film. The 50-year-old Dane is a prolific playwright and a well-known name in contemporary Scandinavian theatre, but directing a feature film is new territory for the accomplished writer.

Currently at BAFICI in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he presents The Cake Factory, the debuting director spoke to the audience about the honor of being part of the jury selecting the BAFICI winners as well as being a newcomer to the world of cinema. It’s a world he wants to continue to be a part of in the future.

The Cake Factory is a satirical and slightly dark comedy, which is based on his own award-winning play from 2013. It revolves around the middle-aged cake factory owner

Niels Agger (Nicholas Bro), who has lost his joy in life and whose business is close to bankruptcy. The Danish cakes are not as popular as they used to be, it seems.

His wife Else (Tina Gylling Mortensen) believes that the daughter June (Emma Sehested Heg) and her husband Johnny (Andreas Jebro) will be the solution to the crisis since they are business savvy and convinced that ‘slim’ cakes are the thing of the future. Niels, however, who is overweight and not the diet-focused type, does not buy this idea and as he moves closer and closer to a life-threatening depression, he also gets closer to the cleaning lady in the factory. She is a refugee from Iraq named Zeinab (Bahar Pars) and nothing about her is quite as it seems to be either. Zeinab and the Muslim culture, which she brings into Niels’ life turns out to be exactly what he needed – and what the cake factory needs too.


We spoke to Christian Lollike at BACIFI, where he explained that it was the Danes’ paranoia of Muslim immigrants and refugees in their small nation after September 11 that inspired him to turn the picture completely around and see Danish society from a new perspective.

The Cake Dynasty has a very Danish sense of humor, but the audience in Argentina seemed to get it when it was screened at BAFICI. How did you experience the audience’s reaction to your film?

I definitely felt that there was a connection to the Argentinian sense of humor. I think maybe it is because of the grotesque and tabulated tone, which is also part of the Latin American style of literature. So that might be the connection.

What is it like screening the film here?

I am very proud to be here in Buenos Aires. It is an important cultural city in South America and it is one of the most exciting things about creating art: Seeing whether it can travel across cultures and borders. So it is very exciting for me to see and feel the reaction of the audience here.

Which other film festivals has your debut film brought you to?

Göteborg and Zürich and it will be going to Transylvania and Krakov.

You are on the jury too. As a newcomer to the film business, what has this experience been like for you?

I am part of an international jury and we are five members in our jury, three men and two women. I look forward to getting together with them and discussing our experiences with the movies we have watched during the festival. That to me is very exciting.

You are a prolific playwright, but The Cake Factory is your first feature film. Why take this step?

I actually always wanted to make films, but I had too many great opportunities to make theatre throughout the years. Also, I sense that right now there is a new curiosity in the film industry to explore alternative tones in film and TV series. There is a need for new kinds of storytelling and new ways of writing scripts. I want to be part of exploring this.

Has the transition been smooth for you?

I would say that it was smooth because I was working with really talented and experienced people. For instance, I worked with cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro, who is also Lars von Trier’s cinematographer and highly talented.

What was the main challenge for you?

When I do theatre, I continue to invent new things in the script all the time during the rehearsal and that is part of my process until the actual performance. With film, I cannot go through the same process. However, it kind of becomes a similar process when you are working in post-production with the editor because here you kind of invent a new version of the story.

The film is a commentary on Danish society and you could look at the cake factory as a mini version of Denmark itself. The film depicts how hard it is for the Danes to change the recipes of their cakes and the recipes of their lives to include new cultures. How did you come up with the idea of the cake factory?

It started with the famous Danish word, which is ‘hygge.’ This word, which translated into English means something like ‘coziness,’ is very much connected to cakes and cookies. It is a tradition in Denmark to be cozy – to hygge sig – with cakes.

At the same time, I also diagnosed Danish society as being obsessed with our body image. So we have two obsessions. One has to do with our body and looking good and slim and fit all the time. The other has to do with our relationship with people with a Muslim background. We have been questioning whether they are terrorists for instance because of what happened on September 11 in the US. Furthermore, I do believe that the two obsessions are somehow connected: The fact that we are obsessed with our looks and being somehow perfect and the fact that we have a hard time tolerating people from other cultures.

You are portraying a middle-aged Dane in a midlife crisis who eagerly converts to Islam, which to a Dane is very funny as this seems to be the opposite of what the Danish men want in reality. Which kind of research did you do in the Muslim community in Denmark to make sure that you treated the community with respect?

I have many friends with a Muslim background, whom I talked to and I also consulted with the actors in the film. I used a lot of real stories told to me by people, who had come to the country and I tried to stay as close to reality as possible even though the story becomes quite grotesque.

In the beginning of the film both Niels and Zeinab are portrayed as clichés. She is the Iraqi cleaning lady, who has the lowest job in the factory. So she starts out as a cliché. And so does Niels. He is this middle-aged lost man. But then I tried to add different kinds of skills and characteristics that were surprising about both of them. It turns out she knows a lot about hunting and they go hunting together. She also jokes about pornography, which might come as a surprise from a Muslim woman.

An inspiration for me was a trip I took to Iran. I spent ten days in the country and the women there were so strong and they would make eye contact and flirted with me. So, if I was expecting suppressed woman who would look down I found instead a powerful woman. People are not always what you expect them to be.

You also comment on the Danish body image as you mentioned. The middle-aged leading character is overweight and indulges in whipped cream – also during sex. Is this also a commentary on Danish greediness?

I think people’s sexual preferences are much more surprising than you would think. I think it is a game the husband and wife have played for years and they are used to the practice.

What would you like to achieve as a filmmaker? Do you have a vision?

I want to learn fast in order to be able to tell the stories that I find important to tell. I think art and film is a medium where you should investigate our societies and the taboos. You have to be brave and not make things easy.  I, therefore, need to explore and experience the medium a lot more. Then I hope to continue to analyze European, American or Western or the world society as a whole and give my perspective on that. Sometimes, I will do it through humor and sometimes it will be more tragic.

What will you take away from BAFICI in Argentina?

It has been very interesting to watch a variety of interesting, international movies. Often, we get to watch a lot of commercial films with a certain type of storytelling, but at film festivals like this, you see film as an art form. The form of the films is generally interesting and the films tend to have a vision and a perspective on society, which is reflective.

You can forget that these films exist sometimes, so it is great to be reminded of this and to watch films from other cultures that are inspiring. You realize that it is not very often you see films from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Portugal, and so on. So, I am very grateful for that.