WATERTOWN – Viggo Mortensen’s new film “Falling” just happened to get into a difficult time.
The film, which was released on February 5th in the US on all streaming platforms and in US cinemas, is essentially about a headstrong man from a bygone era in the early stages of dementia. When his son tries to help, serious conflicts arise as the two of them fail to communicate or find common ground.
And communication, said Mortensen, is something that this nation needs more than ever.
“We have to find a way to look beyond our political leanings and everything else, deal with the facts and try to listen to the people as much as possible,” Mortensen said in a telephone interview from Madrid, Spain. “I think we used to be better at it than a country where we could actually find a middle ground. If we agree, disagree, we could actually talk. Now a lot is not said at all. Everyone has their own corner and that’s it. “
In “Falling” Mortensen, a 1976 graduate of Watertown High School and 1980 graduate of St. Lawrence University, Canton, makes his debut as a writer / director.
Falling made its Sundance Film Festival debut last winter and was released in Europe last year. After its debut, The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore called it “a masterful family drama that sympathizes with a father whose mistakes cannot be ignored”.
Mortensen said the idea for “Falling” came to him while flying across the Atlantic after his mother’s funeral.
His mother, Grace “Gay” Atkinson Wright, died on April 25, 2015 at the age of 86 in Watertown. She was born in Watertown and graduated from Emma Willard School in Troy in 1948 and a degree in humanities from Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts in 1948.
Mortensen’s father, V. Peter Mortensen, Cape Vincent, died in 2017 at the age of 87. The elder Mortensen was born in Snekkerup, Vigersted Municipality, Denmark in 1929.
V. Peter and Grace separated when 62 year old Viggo was 11 years old and his brothers were 8 and 6 years old.
“When my mother died, she had dementia and Parkinson’s for several years, and my father was just starting to suffer from dementia when he died,” Mortensen said. “That was in my head and I started writing the story of ‘Falling’, using my parents’ feelings and a few little things that are true.”
Mortensen dedicated the film to his brothers Charles and Walter. Charles lives in northern Idaho and Walter lives in the Clayton area. Viggo is a regular visitor to the Nordland.
“I used some real life fragments that you would be familiar with,” Mortensen said.
A true aspect of its own in Falling, Mortensen said, is the episode of The Duck, in which Grady McKenzie plays the younger version of the character John, played by Mortensen.
“That’s from real events,” said Mortensen. “That didn’t happen in North New York. It happened where I lived as a kid for most of the first 10 years of my life in South America, where my father got a job. “
In the film, John is allowed to shoot his father’s shotgun at a herd of ducks as a young boy.
“It was winter and he took me duck hunting when I was 4 years old,” Mortensen said of his real father. “He offered to shoot me and never dreamed that I would hit anything. I got lucky and got the duck and got in the water like I was a retriever dog before my dad could stop me. It was freezing cold. “
When young Viggo returned home, he would not part with the duck.
“I took a bath with it, wanted to dry it off, wanted to sleep with it,” said Mortensen. “Mom thought that was ridiculous. She obviously took it away from me during the night. When I woke up the next morning, I was honestly a lot angrier than that little kid (in the movie). But I finally took part in picking it for dinner. “
The duck incident, Mortensen said, is a great way to introduce the family’s relationship with the natural environment and the dynamics of the family itself. His brothers would understand that too.
“Even though it’s a fictional story, there are enough moments in Lance Henriksen’s character, the father, like the duck material, a few sentences and certainly the dementia aspect. We share these things. There was a lot of dementia in our family: my parents, my stepfather, some of our grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. Although it is a fictional story, it uses some real feelings and real events, so I dedicated it to them. “
Willis, Lance Henriksen’s older character, lives in what is described in Falling as Northern New York. The film was shot in southern Ontario to reflect the landscape of that area.
“It looks the same when it comes to landscapes – farms to trees,” Mortensen said.
The fact that it was filmed north of the border and not here was largely a matter of funding.
“When we finally found the money to make this film with a combination of European and Canadian funding, the requirement was that I shoot it there, not across the border in New York State,” said Mortensen. “It looks very similar and I know the area well. So it was easy to make it look like this, between Lowville and Watertown or the Tug Hill Plateau / North New York.”
Boonville and Lowville received credits in the movie. The character Willis makes some nasty comments about Boonville, which are actually some of the milder nasties he utters.
“I apologize to Boonville!” Said Mortensen. “That’s him. That’s not the director or the writer. Boonville is beautiful, it’s a beautiful area and I know it well. This whole region is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It was just to provoke. It’s just one of those ridiculous things he says. It’s not the most insulting one, but I think if you’re from Boonville you don’t wanna hear that. “
Lowville receives credit for a scene in which a postcard is mailed with a picture of a bear of the two children who play the descendants of Willis and his wife, played by Hannah Gross. In the film, the couple split up and the children send the postcard with a Lowville address from a hotel parking lot in Pennsylvania while they are traveling with their father and girlfriend.
“My intention was for the family farm facility to be in this area,” said Mortensen. “It’s a tiny detail that you only see when you’re quick or freezing it.”
Mortensen also added a small detail to the film as a tribute to his love for hockey and a particular player. In a diner scene, a framed photo of Guy LaFleur, the great Canadian from Montreal who won five Stanley Cups with the team in the 1970s, can be seen in the background.
Mortensen moved to the Watertown area in the 1970s when he was 11.
“The 1970s were the glory years for the Montreal Canadiens,” said Mortensen. “I didn’t know anything about hockey when we moved up there. I was a soccer fan in Argentina. But I lost touch. In the 1970s there was no internet, no iPhones or anything like that. Somehow I lost touch with everything from there – the language, the sport. “
But through fuzzy aerial television, NHL hockey was being broadcast on Canadian stations.
“I started seeing this team, this sport, Montreal, hockey on TV,” Mortensen said. “And I said, ‘Wow! ‘It’s like soccer, but much faster, with sticks and you can fight! And the fans are crazy. “
He even learned some French by listening to radio broadcasts of the Games.
“I already spoke Spanish and gradually started to study French because I wanted to know what they were saying about these players.”
“Falling”, with characters biting their tongues and ignoring Willis’ nasty, casual comments, seems like a smoldering volcano. It eventually explodes in a key scene between John, played by Mortensen, and Willis, played by Henriksen. They let off steam with tears and spit. Those tears, said Mortensen, were real.
“That was a difficult scene,” he said. “And we knew that this scene had to be uncomfortable for us if it was to be uncomfortable for the audience. It may be too much for some people, but it has a lot to do with pushing the boundaries of communication. It’s all about asking questions, how are there people with whom we cannot communicate at all in our families, in our lives, in work, in society? Are there people who don’t even deserve to be communicated with because they have nothing in common? “
Mortensen sees some good results from the current pandemic as the art of communication has taken off in new directions. He believes that younger people pay more attention to their elders.
“Suppose you’re walking down the street and you see a man in a wheelchair, a woman walking a stroller, whatever – just old people,” Mortensen said. “If you run down the street in your early twenties as a teenager, you may not even notice her. You’re kind of invisible because of your interest in other things, from music to a girl or boy you want to meet, motorcycles, school supplies or whatever. Now, with the pandemic, I think even young people notice old people, even if they just pass by. “
These young people, Mortensen said, might ask:
“I wonder if you are alone?”
“I wonder if you are worried about getting sick with COVID and all that stuff?”
He added, “I think this is a positive thing. You can’t help but think about it, maybe extrapolate, and watch a man like Willis, alone, isolated, and living on such a farm. What will happen to these people? What will happen to me Then who will take care of me? “
The film could also raise questions about the health system in the US in an “apolitical way,” said Mortensen.
“This is a necessity, a service we should all have,” he said. “It has to be improved if we are to be a really civilized, democratic government for the people. There is nothing more important than your health. If you are not healthy, you have nothing. “
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