Fear, Trauma and Family Ties: The Story of Dark New Danish Drama, Wildland

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90. Photo Chr. Geisnës_Wildland_Stills_6861
Wildland, 2020 (Film still)

Actor Sandra Guldberg Kampp opens up about her lead role as Ida in Jeanette Nordahl’s chilling directorial debut, Wildland

In Danish picture Wildland, director Jeanette Nordahl’s feature debut, we hear Sandra Guldberg Kampp before we see her. “People I don’t even know ask me all sorts of questions,” she announces, the camera focused on an upturned car. “About my aunt. And my mum. They say we have plenty of time. That we’ll figure out what went wrong together. But for some people things go wrong before they even begin.” The lines are an early indication of the trauma that will unfold, and Guldberg Kampp recites them word for word in the film’s penultimate sequence.  

As Ida, the newcomer is a recently orphaned 17 year-old sent to live with her estranged aunt, her mother’s sister, following a fatal car accident (when we do see Ida she’s wearing a sling, some light bruising visible on her cheek). Her new family – the matriarch aunt played by Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen, Limbo) and her three adult sons (Besir Zeciri, Elliot Crosset Hove and Joachim Fjelstrup) – are criminals working as loan sharks. Nordahl, who was pregnant while developing the script, has previously described an interest in the genes we pass on as a key component of the picture’s formation, and the motherhood theme has a tight grip on Wildland, woven into each character’s narrative. Central to that is Knudsen’s Bodil, who promotes a highly tactile environment: the family kiss, slap and ruffle each other’s hair throughout, highlighting the deep affection which ultimately casts Ida aside. 

“She’s always been kind of quiet, a very observant girl,” the actress considers over Zoom. “I think it’s a lot for her to come into this very extroverted family, who love each other in a very special way. She realises she needs to choose between not being part of a family or adapting to their lifestyle. And then something happens and she needs to choose between them and saving herself.” Early on, Ida chooses the path of immersing herself in the family’s activities, partaking in their work and enjoying group nights out (her comfort is firmly established when she joins the boys for a curb-side wee on the way home from a club). 

Nordahl and screenwriter Ingeborg Topsøe never clarify whether Ida’s moral compass truly aligns with the family or their familiarity is a result of her grief, but Guldberg Kampp’s performance encapsulates both realities. “We all experience a feeling of being left out of something or not fitting in and I feel like, if you look at yourself in those situations you can kind of change personality to fit in with specific groups,” she suggests, likening it to how middle school students interact. “I think the same thing happens to Ida here – she’s not an evil person at all – but she realises that she just needs to fit in and do what they’re doing, because she wants a family, to be loved by someone.”

Guldberg Kampp was the very first actress Nordahl met for the role – they both turned up early to the casting – and confirmed the part shortly after. “I remember, they made me look into the camera and do all these different feelings. They would be like ‘ok now you’re sad, and now you’re happy’,” she says, alluding to Ida’s restrained demeanour forcing the focus on her wordless expressions. Interested in acting since winning a “tiny part” in a children’s show at 11, this is the 21-year-old’s first feature film and she’s on-screen for the majority of the film’s 89-minute running time. Did she feel any great pressure or responsibility? “Honestly, I didn’t at the time but now that I look back on it I’m like why didn’t I? I just felt very safe among my co-actors and my director. It was nice.” 

Shot in 2018 in Bogense, northwest of Danish island Funen (Guldberg Kampp is from the island’s south), the cast lived together for six weeks while filming, a time the actress recalls as amazing. “That was my education in some ways, because these people are very talented and very kind,” she enthuses. “We were around each other a lot, and because my character was so observant it was quite easy for me just to look around at what everyone else was doing; it helped tremendously.” The initial intimacy captured on-screen was echoed amongst the cast during this time she continues, and she learnt a lot. “I remember one time, one of the guys sat me down and talked to me about saying no to things you’re not comfortable with or that doesn’t interest you. That was a useful lesson, to know that it’s ok to not accept everything.” In stark contrast, as Wildland concludes, Ida now understands that she’ll never be afforded that same agency under her aunt’s roof, or where it takes her. 

Wildland is at UK cinemas from 13 August