The World To Come is Norwegian filmmaker Mona Fastvold’s second feature film in which Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby interpret two women from the 19th century USA who fall in love with each other. Read more about the Norwegian film director who creates American women’s history.
Her debut feature from 2014, The Sleepwalker, wowed the Sundance public. Subsequently she produced and co-wrote Childhood of a Leader and Vox Lux with her domestic and creative partner Brady Corbet and later The Mustang with the writer of Yardie and Bronson, Brock Norman Brock.
Now, there are whispers of a new genre in the cinema landscape: the lesbian period drama. The World to Come had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September last year, where it won the Queer Lion Award for best film with a LGBTQ theme.
The World to Come is an 1850s frontier romance which moves us into the forests of Schoharie County, in the State of New York in 19th century America. Abigail (Katherine Waterson) and Dyer (Casey Affleck) own a cold and isolated farm. The farmer’s wife is grieving for her dead daughter, who becomes drawn to Tallie, a glamorous new neighbor. Abigail’s quiet, sensible husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) provides a counterpoint to Tallie’s jealous, suspecting partner, Finney (Christopher Abbot).
It’s a film that has inevitably been characterized as a period, lesbian Brokeback Mountain, and which premiered to rave reviews at Venice last year. There, Fastvold picked up both the Fanart Award and the Queer Palm. By any measure, The World to Come is an auspicious second feature, even if it wasn’t what Fastvold had planned.
It’s worth noting that giving queer stories a period setting has always been one of the safest ways to bring them to the big screen. Historical often equals prestige, and whether it’s Brokeback Mountain, Carol or Call Me By Your Name, Hollywood producers seem to think romance has an extra kick to it when paired with a bygone era.
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Fastvold says that the film project was presented to her by the producer Whitaker Lader, who is Affleck’s producer partner in the company Sea Change Media. “I worked on a different film that I wrote for several years,” says the director. “It was also quite an ambitious film. And I just could never get the budget where I wanted it. I kept being told that I needed to be under a certain price level. And I feel that that’s something that a lot of female film-makers struggle with, because often financiers seem more comfortable with women telling small, intimate stories. To make bigger movies, they want to see the next Kubrick walk in the door. And I don’t look that much like Stanley Kubrick. It’s like people don’t associate female film-makers with auteurs. So they’re scared of taking a chance. Which, of course, is not true. There’s plenty of female auteurs who make fantastic movies».
The director says that there has been no conscious strategy on her part to apply to the USA instead of Norway, but that she felt that the American film industry was just as accessible to her. It’s the first time that Fastvold has directed material she hasn’t originated herself, an experience she describes as “strange and luxurious”. The script came from writing team Jim Shepard and Ron Hansen; the latter previously collaborated with The World to Come star and producer Casey Affleck on Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The varying authorship creates an interesting to and from between genders. The film is a woman’s story written by men, mediated by a very open and creative set, and the female gaze of the director.
The director says that she wanted to give these women a beautiful and sensual love story. She wanted to evoke films of a bygone era. It’s easy to approach period pieces or queer films with a lot of restraints but she wanted it to be lush and seductive.
“I have been in the US for so long, and in a way understood how I could make films within the American model. Before that I worked as a child actor on TV, with soap operas and a lot of different things in Norway, so I learned the subject in an unorthodox way. That background was perhaps not an advantage in Norway, while the knowledge I had was enough for me to put together and finance a film in the USA,” she says.
As the title of the film suggests, the world to come could, and should, be brighter.
Norwegian Film Director Creates American Women’s History, written by Tor Kjolberg