Interview: Twin Sisters

In her mid-length competition film Twin Sisters, Norwegian director Mona Friis Bertheussen chronicles the lives of identical Chinese twins Alexandra and Mia, abandoned at birth and separated a matter of weeks later when adopted by Norwegian and US families.

Alexandra grows up in the village of Fresvik (population 234) located in the bucolic Norwegian countryside. Mia, meanwhile, goes to the bustling and industrial US city of Sacramento. They were never denied information about their familial ties, and the girls communicate regularly by letter and telephone. In Bertheussen's film, however, the time has come for them to be re-united after eight years of separation.

Alexandra's life in Norway seems uncomplicated. She roams the countryside unaccompanied, tends to the family horse and looks after mice that she finds in the family barn. This means that she has more time to think and talk about a sister whose life in the US is altogether more cluttered, defined by sleepovers and soccer practice. What's more, Mia is not allowed out on her own in Sacramento, such is her parents' concerns about her safety.

"Both of the girls are very bright and smart, and have strong characters, but I think their personalities may be a strong reflection of the society in which they live," comment Bertheussen. "Alexandra was more reflective on their situation, but of course she's walking around those tiny streets and she has the time and space to think and to write letters to Mia. And that's maybe something people can resonate with when they watch the film. It's not just about the twins. It's also about how you live your life, what does your everyday life have to do with the relationships that you have? Do you have time to remain in touch with people if you are always on the go?"

When the girls finally get together it is very touching. They squeal in anticipation of their imminent meeting and subsequently disappear together for the duration of the holiday, lost in a world that isn't defined by parental input. They swim, run, gambol and frolic, continually finding non-verbal ways to communicate with each other (Alexandra cannot speak English and Mia cannot speak Norwegian). Of course they have to go their separate ways again, but Bertheussen believes that her film is just the beginning of a project that could run years into the future. "It may be a lifelong thing but of course it depends on how the girls think about it when they get older. I think there could be amazing sequels when they are teenagers and grown up. The families told me that if I want to do another film with them then they will do it. That is the best feedback you can get."

Nick Cunningham
IDFA 2015 Line-Up Announced October 9, 2015 | The complete list of selected films for IDFA 2015, in alphabetical order, is now online. The full screening schedule will be available from November 5.
Looking at documentary sound October 6, 2015 | Sound in the documentary will be the central theme of the Sounds Real program. IDFA has invited five international sound designers to choose two documentaries with exceptional sound design: one of their own, and one by a colleague.
Opening film: A Family Affair by Tom Fassaert September 22, 2015 | The 28th edition of IDFA will open with A Family Affair by Dutch director Tom Fassaert, an exploration of the director's own delicate family history.


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