Munch, the opening film for IFFR 2023, is an atypical film about the famous painter

On Wednesday, the 52nd edition of the international film festival Rotterdam kicks off with the unconventional artist biography Munch.

Joost Broeren-Huitenga

The film industry will be watching closely what happens at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam this year. In a sector still struggling with disappointing attendance figures, much depends on the festival, which is traditionally a grand celebration of the physical cinema experience.

Furthermore, after two editions that took place (almost) exclusively online and a turbulent year in which many employees were fired, director Vanja Kaludjercic has something to prove with the first physical edition under her leadership.

Nevertheless, when considering the extensive program for the 2023 edition, the continuity is particularly striking. The streamlined format of the program for the 2021 and 2022 digital editions has largely been retained. The installation Sunshine State by Steve McQueen, one of the most prominent artworks in the Art Directions program, which focuses on the intersection of film and visual art, was originally slated for the 2022 edition. Body already took place last year.

Focus programs

The fact that anime director Yuasa is the best-known of the four filmmakers to whom the festival is dedicating focus programs this year – creators who ‘don’t always get the attention they deserve’ according to Kaludjercic – perhaps says something more about the direction they have taken .

The other three are the American interdisciplinary artist Stanya Kahn, the art project arc (described by the IFFR as ‘performative extended cinema’) and the Hungarian filmmaker and writer Judit Elek. All four are present at the festival for discussions about their work; A book commissioned by the festival about Elek will also be presented.

“Our mission remains to celebrate cinema in all its versatility and to continue to expand our horizons,” Kaludjercic said in a recent press release. “From remarkable debutantes to cinematic masters.”

Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, creator of Munch, the opening film of the festival, seems to bring many of these extremes together in one person. The 33-year-old director is self-taught, a talent on the way, and yet also a very experienced filmmaker. Many directors make their debut in their early thirties, but Dahlsbakken is among them Munch already on his tenth feature film.


The director was born in 1989 near Hamar in Norway and taught himself to make films – he was trained as a film researcher and a trained projectionist. No wonder the young filmmaker (and his even younger brother Oskar, who often serves as his cinematographer) prefers to film on classic celluloid rather than the digital recordings common today. His feature film debut To return (‘The Return’) from 2015 was even the last film to be shot entirely on Fujifilm material, after production had already ceased in 2013.

In the eight years that have passed since that debut, Dahlsbakken has been exceptionally productive – in addition to his feature films, he has also shot a few short films and directed episodes for TV series. He worked in a wide variety of genres, from road movie to zombie comedy and family Christmas story to disaster movie. His only film released in the Netherlands so far was the more classic art house film An affair from 2018, where a high school teacher is stalked by a student.

Kaleidoscopic portrait

Of Munch brings a kaleidoscopic portrait of the famous painter, who lived from 1863 to 1944. Edvard Munch wanted to dig into the inner world of man in his work and created with The scream one of the most haunting depictions of emotional torment in Western art history.

Dahlsbakken does not tell a direct life story, but summarizes Munch’s life and career in four central moments. The fact that one of the actors playing the artist is a woman, and that Munch’s friend August Strindberg is also played by a woman in the film, is an expression of Dahlsbakken’s atypical approach. Like Munch himself, in his expressive film he attributes more emotional expressiveness than to a rigid representation of reality.

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