Already a big name in her native Finland thanks to her platinum-selling records, Anna Eriksson expands her career with M, her experimental feature debut, which digs into the nightmares of Marilyn Monroe – the title of the film comes from her name. Eriksson has produced, written, directed, edited, scored, and played the lead role herself; she’s a one-woman show. The film will premiere on the 6th of April in Berlin at the third edition of the Visionaer Film Festival after being presented at the 33rd Venice International Film Critics’ Week last year.
Anna Eriksson (1977, Rauma, Finland) spent most of her childhood and teenage years travelling around the world because of her father’s job: India, Tanzania and Saudi Arabia are some of the countries she visited. Anna studied music from early on, recorded her first album after graduating and instantly became a huge success in Finland. She has recorded ten albums and won many awards since then, including Emma prizes (the Finnish Grammys) and the Teosto prize, one of the biggest art prizes in the Nordic countries.

Sigmund Freud attributed most human behaviour to the sexual instinct (Eros). With Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he added the death drive (Thanatos) to that behaviour. Freud referenced ancient past, 500 BC, when Empedocles argument about love and hate, deducting that sexual pleasure would place itself at the service of the death drives. Precisely, Eros and Thanatos are central to Anna Eriksson film, M.

And M is a hyperaesthetic film that establishes relations between cinema and painting, icon and body, image and story but, all in all, is the story about the unhappiness of a ‘woman’ who is desired but not loved, who is hurt, offended, lacerated, and dissected through generations by the male gaze. We talked to Anna Eriksson on the occasion of her visit to Berlin about the film, her influences and the politics of the female body.
Anna Eriksson Metalmagazine 4.jpg
M comes from Marilyn. Let's start with Marilyn Monroe and your venture to deconstruct the character. In fact, I think you enter and exit all the characters in general in order to reflect on themes like sex, destruction, and death. Is your film an attempt to go from the particular, the popular myth, to the general considering the questions globally, and in human terms?
That’s right, I do enter and exit all the characters. But what is really happening is that I go in and out of my subconscious. I was as honest as I could possibly be, and many of the scenes in the film are my dreams or visions as they came to me. I began my journey from the icon, Marilyn, but in the end, M turned out to be a deeply personal work.
Talking about pop icons, your work departs from the figure of Monroe, a perfect example of how popular culture shapes our perception of feminine sexuality. Being yourself a famous female pop singer, your movie does not fit precisely in popular film culture, as it is visually experimental and does not follow a narration. Why did you decide this format?
To be honest, I didn’t decide the format, the subject at hand did! I worked with the film like I’d be working on an expressionist painting. I had the idea of the character M in a limbo repeating a death cycle. A linear/traditional way of storytelling would not have been the right approach. I wanted to play with symbols, sounds and hypnotic rhythm with pure emotion.
Excellent, it makes all the sense. This is your first feature film, the process started in 2013, but did you put your musical career on hold all this time? Could you please expose briefly such a long process?
I did some performances during this time, but mostly I concentrated on the film. The process was slow because I was in charge of everything except the camerawork. I worked with many things simultaneously: I edited, wrote the script, created the soundscapes, composed the music, etc. This method of working was crucial for the film. I was able to create M independently and in complete freedom.
“I use my own presence to break the myth of beauty and of the female body.”
M is macabre and hyperaesthetic at the same time. You have chosen CinemaScope, which gives the film a wide-open vision. Regarding the locations, the events in the film are set in no particular place or time but most of the scenes were shot in Nazaré (Portugal), the Mexican village of Litibu, and Uusikaupunki in Finland. Why all these places so different from one another?
My dear friends Petri Salo and Axel Sutinen own a beautiful house in Nazaré. The house is hacienda-style, like the last home Marilyn bought before she died, so it was a perfect place to film. Salo and Sutinen both have roles in M, and their help during the filming was essential. Related to Mexico, Marilyn visited it many times, she even met Buñuel on one of those trips. She loved the country. And finally, we have a small studio in Uusikaupunki, so we filmed some of the close-up scenes here.
Let’s move to the characters. All the actors are non-professionals but your statement says that they have been chosen because of their strong essence and character. There is no dialogue, but a voice over. Did you use a script? Did you allow the actors to improvise?
I did all the voices in the film myself. I changed my own voice and pitch to fit the characters’ essence. Right from the beginning of the work, I decided that there would be no traditional dialogue but that the dialogue would consist of taped conversations. The tape effect gives the scenes a particular, ghostly feeling, an escape from realism. And regarding the script, I did use one on some of the scenes, but not all of them. We did improvise at times, but not too much.
About narratives: the themes of the film are – apart from sexuality and death – manipulation and abuse of power. How much of your personal experience is in it? Also, the movie offers a feminist political message very much in tune with contemporary times. Could it be linked to the Hollywood’s sexual scandals of last years?
Well, I have had a long career (twenty years) in the music business, so naturally, I know a few things about manipulation, but I have not been abused. The film came out in the midst of #MeToo, so obviously it can be linked to that. Still, I’m disappointed if the film is interpreted as a manifest. To me, M is so much more.
Anna Eriksson Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Recently, I interviewed visual artist Monica Bonvicini (I do not know if you know her). I am sort of fascinated because her work is very strong visually and very politically charged. One of her affirmations is, “If one really believes that the personal is political, then the first scene of the crime is the bed.” Which I find absolutely fantastic. Your film advocates an unsettling idea of feminism as it destroys the myth of beauty. It literally breaks the representation of the ideal of femininity, focusing on the mortification of the body, the agony of the flesh and the incurable wounds of the soul. Do you also think that the personal is politic and that through sex, political alliterating messages can be given?
Absolutely, the personal is political, I fully agree! That is one of the reasons why I wanted to take on the character of M. If I had used an actress, the effect would have been totally different. Now, I use my own presence to break the myth of beauty and of the female body as something that is time and time again represented to us almost exclusively through a male gaze. Like the protagonist in the film, I too was caught up in the limbo. It was a very personal, timeless space, full of carnal and frightening visions. I felt like I was subjected to emotions that I could not fully control or understand.
You seem strong but you have an extraordinary sensitivity as well. Marilyn Monroe was a tortured human being, probably also because of being an extra sensitive person. She had a miscarriage, and this provoked grief and, of course, entailed death. Is her obsession for a denied motherhood on the foreground of this filmic creation? Signs of such are disseminated everywhere: moths, ghosts, the presence of the god Anubis or Marilyn’s lifeless body dressed with only perfume and despair.
It is one of the main themes, yes.
She had many artists and intellectual friends: Warhol, writers Capote or her husband Miller. Movie makers did not treat her very well, she was mostly presented as a sexually objectified blonde. Do you think literature treated her better, for example, Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates?
I really do think that literature has treated her better. Other great books about her are The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Sarah Churchwell and Lois Banners’ Marilyn, The Passion and the Paradox. They both have a fresh, feminist approach. Marilyn was a complex character and Oates fictional take on her is extraordinary. I think she has come closest to the real thing.
“Art is not about getting a second opinion; art is about being honest to one’s vision.”
Coming back to cinema. Moving images did not exist when Richard Wagner said that opera was a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ (total work of art) as it involves: scenography, music, dramaturgy, narration, customs or set design. Nowadays, cinema is considered to include all the previous and more. In M, you played the main role, wrote the screenplay and the music, narrated the dialogues and performed all female voices. You also did the post-production: sound and editing, and pre-production participating in the scenography, the colouring and the costumes. This is a massive amount of control over the film, why was that important? What would Wagner say about you then?
I don’t believe in teamwork when it comes to art. I know this is an unusual way to work when it comes to film, but it is the only way for me. I had such a distinct vision of what I wanted to do that it all came very naturally. This is the way I want to work in the future as well. Art is not about getting a second opinion; art is about being honest to one’s vision.
Let's talk about your visual references and influences. For that, I would like to present you a series of names and works. To each one, could you please simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and briefly why are they important for you:
Male filmmakers: Surrealist films like the earliest ones by Buñuel, like L'âge d'Or and Un Chien Andalou; David Lynch, especially Blue Velvet – I am referring to the sequence in which a black butterfly is grafted under a portion of perfectly, surgically cut skin.
Un Chien Andalou, no. But many people who have seen mention this! Blue Velvet, yes. All Lynch films inspire me. There is a distinct red line going through his filmography leading right into the very core of the film. In that core you there is the fascinating play between emptiness and desire.
Continuing with David Cronenberg and his visionary performative body-horror. And Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia for the use of nature and wide-open shots. Or Gaspar Noé because of his psychoactive takes.
Cronenberg, no; his only film I really like is Crash. Von Trier, no, but I liked Melancholia very much. Gaspar Noé definitely no. I have a hard time watching his films but I appreciate them in a way.
Anna Eriksson Metalmagazine 7.jpg
About female avant-garde film-makers – as the late great Jonas Mekas said in an interview with us, it is a genre very developed by women historically. I will say: Maya Deren, Chantal Akerman or Penelope Spheeris.
None of them, although Maya Deren is fantastic (but a little too romantic for reference).
I find in your images some references to panting. For instance, Marcel Duchamp's Étant Donnés – thinking of the sequence with Marilyn’s body slumped on the ground. Surrealist painting, the dreams and the subconscious as in Salvador Dalí or René Magritte. Then, Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper.
Duchamp, no. Magritte and Dalí… I love surrealism but neither one is my favourite. Francis Bacon, yes, his way of representing the human body is brutal and frightening and yet, incredibly fascinating. Edward Hopper, yes, his paintings are mostly about loneliness. They touch me deeply.
And now, in a sort of automatic association game, if you like the subconscious as the surrealists did, I would love you to please answer with the first word — and one word only — that comes to your mind when you hear the following.
Desire: Black
Sexuality: Dreams
Passion: Fruit!
Love: Family
Hate: Suffocating
Pain: Memories
Pleasure: Skin
Eroticism: Cliché
Exhibitionism: Marilyn
Voyeurism: Night
Pornography: Meaningless
Fetishism: Game
Anna Eriksson Metalmagazine 8.jpg
We are nearly finishing, so how do you feel about presenting the movie at a small but well-curated festival like Visionaer? And in Berlin, a semi-paradise of freedom and tolerance?
It's great to present M in Berlin and am looking forward to it! People have been surprisingly receptive in every single festival so far as I've had a chance to see bigger and smaller festivals. It is not about the size but the atmosphere, and I have heard that Visionaer is indeed well curated. M will be shown on April 6 at ACUDkino in Mitte (venue of the festival) at 19h, and I will participate in a Q&A after the screening, so can't wait for this experience!
It's time to say goodbye, but not before asking what future plans do you have for the movie in particular and your future in general.
I’m currently writing the script for my next film. I’m absolutely fascinated by this art form, I love every single aspect of it. I have no plans for making music right now but I’m sure that the time will come sooner or later. I will continue performing here in Finland as well.
Anna Eriksson Metalmagazine 2.jpg