In her latest animated short, Oscar®-winning director Torill Kove tells a story of the beauty and complexity of parental love.
Threads takes us on a journey that is at once intimate in its telling and expansive in its scope. The film speaks volumes about the attachments we crave, form and sometimes grieve, as they evolve in ways that can leave us feeling lonely or left behind—as any parent of an adopted or biological child knows only too well.
The animated short follows a mother and daughter as they make their way through the young girl’s rites of passage: school, friends and late nights out. What happens to the thread that ties them together? How do they stay connected?
In a film without words, body language becomes the lexicon, and Kove has created a vocabulary that captures in a few simple strokes the dance of rejection and acceptance at the heart of human connection.
A film about the power of the bonds we form, and the ways in which they stretch and shape us.
In her latest animated short, Threads, Oscar®-winning director Torill Kove explores the universal love story of the bond that develops between a parent and a child.
With her signature style of minimalistic characters and simple line drawings, Torill takes us on a journey that is at once intimate in its telling and expansive in its scope. The film unfolds in a world of magical realism, where people seek attachments in the form of threads hanging from the sky. A woman reaches up to grab one, and what follows is her story of connecting with a little girl who will become her daughter.
Unlike her previous films (The Danish Poet, Me and My Moulton, My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts), which used dialogue to great comic effect, here Torill Kove lets the visuals do the talking. Threads speaks volumes about the attachments we crave, form and sometimes grieve, as they evolve in ways that can leave us feeling lonely or left behind—as any parent of an adopted or biological child knows only too well.
Torill Kove captures in a few simple strokes the dance of rejection and acceptance at the heart of human connection. The film follows the mother and daughter as they make their way through the young girl’s rites of passage: learning to walk, going to school, making friends, staying out late. What happens to the thread that ties them together? How does it transform at each stage? How do they stay connected?
Threads portrays the mother-child relationship as a kind of dance, where the two move together, pull apart, and tug on the thread to call the other back, until the time ultimately comes for the daughter to form attachments of her own.
With this choreography, Torill captures the beauty and complexity of parental love, the bonds that we form over time, and the ways in which they stretch and shape us.
This isn’t the first time that you’ve explored family relationships in your films. In Me and My Moulton, the kids, quite comically, try to understand the eccentricities of their parents. In Threads, you return once again to the parent-child relationship, but from a very different perspective. What story did you set out to tell here?
Because I am interested in family stories and intimate, close relationships, I thought that it was time to do something on being a parent. Then this idea came to me about searching for attachments or for something profound or significant in life but not really knowing what it is. The story of the connection between the mother and the child took shape from there.
This project also coincided with the first big wave of Syrian refugees coming into Europe. So initially the child in the story was someone who had lost her family in some kind of war or natural catastrophe without pinpointing where it was actually taking place. But in the process, I cut the child’s history because I thought that it was opening a can of worms. Who is this child? What is this situation? Are you trying to tell us that more people should be adopting children from war-torn countries? I didn’t want it to be that literal.
I really just wanted this to be a film about feelings and about the time that goes into making bonds, and how those connections evolve over a lifetime. So, more and more, I thought that where this child was from didn’t really matter. And I didn’t want the film to be something that only people who have children, or only people who have adopted children, can relate to. I wanted it to speak to a broader topic.
I’ve had people say that they don’t see it as an adoption film at all. Others have said that mostly it made them think of their mother, which I think is really nice. And one woman said, “You know, it just made me think how important it is to have love in your life.” I liked that.
You are the mother of an adopted daughter. In your experience of forming bonds with her, did you find that you had to make up for lost time?
Yes, you do feel that you have to catch up a little bit, but you don’t know how. We don’t know anything about this baby. And the information that we do get may or may not be true. So basically you have this little kid who is just like a big question.
We read a lot about attachment theory and, if there hasn’t been physical contact in those first few months, how you can make up for it and to what extent it can be repaired. So you know these things intellectually, but—and I think this is true for all relationships, never mind just parents—a big part of the intimacy has to do with trying to figure out what the other person needs. And that was the biggest puzzle. And when you try to figure that out with someone who doesn’t talk, it’s doubly difficult. Plus, there’s culture shock and jetlag, and they’re in complete freak-out mode without having any words to express what they’re feeling.
That brings us to the fact that this is your first film without dialogue. What led you to that decision?
I’d never done it before, so I wanted to try something a little outside of my comfort zone. And because the relationship with a child is basically wordless, at the beginning anyway, it just kind of made sense. I also wanted to highlight a lot of emotions that are difficult to put into words. And I thought, if I were to write this, what would I say? “There’s nothing more profound than raising a child?” You know, it’s all these clichés.
I also have this fantasy that this film could become some kind of tool or discussion starter for prospective adoptive parents or children. It could be used in any country and in any language. It doesn’t require translation.
The parent/child relationship often serves as a template for relationships to come. What specific challenges do adoptive parents face in that regard?
Before we adopted Runa, we went to a talk about adoption and attachment, and the woman who spoke pulled out this string that had no knots on it, and she said, “This is a healthy attachment. This is an attachment that hasn’t been broken.” And then she brought out another string that had one knot in it, and she said, “This is an attachment that has been interrupted, but a new one has been made.” I don’t know to what extent the string analogy is accurate, but I found it really useful. She said that our job as adoptive parents was to make sure that there aren’t too many more knots on the string, to keep it as whole as possible so that the children could go out in life with the capacity to trust and form relationships.
The image of the thread is central to the story. Was that something that came to you early on in the process?
Yes, but initially I had the woman jumping for the thread by herself. And then I thought, well, this is a little lonely! And it seemed too much like a story about fate, like she was going to find that one thing, you know? So I decided to create a crowd. The production team jokes that I always have to have a crowd scene in my films. That’s my signature. And it drives assistants crazy because they have to draw too.
Throughout the film, the thread really takes on a life of its own, at times forming a kind of bubble around the mother and daughter. That led to a lot of creative discussions. What was this bubble going to be? Is it going to be opaque? Should it have colour? Should it be animated? But in the end we came full circle. I thought, let’s just keep it really simple.
In such a quiet film, music becomes a character. How did the score for Threads take shape?
My husband scores all of my films. I really like working with him. He’s always there so he can try things as we go. It’s a kind of work-in-progress. The instrumentation is mostly his choice, but I knew I wanted it to be spare for this film. And I thought piano would be nice because it’s so melodic and rich, and it can really fill the image.
Humour is a defining element in your work. Did you make a conscious decision to adopt a more poignant tone in Threads?
Yes, humour just didn’t apply here. I have to admit that sometimes I missed it a bit. I thought, this is such a serious film! There were some scenes that I found kind of emotionally draining to do, whereas with my other films, there have always been moments where I’ve almost laughed out loud because the animation was so fun to do.
Your previous films have all been set in Norway. Where does Threads take place?
It could be anywhere really. It’s definitely urban, except for the place in the film where the mother and daughter get to know each other, where there’s really just the pale brown earth and the sky. The most challenging part of the film was to decide what this place was going to be. Am I going to have a forest in the background? Are there going to be houses? Should it be suburban? Rural? A city? I just wanted it to be a place where the only thing that really matters is what’s happening between these two people. So on the production team, we called this place “the desert.” My daughter calls it “the rice field.”
The film has a melancholy tone to it. Can you talk a bit about that?
When I was preparing the storyboard, it coincided with me being at a stage where I was carrying my daughter less and less. The first couple of years I carried her all the time. One of the first words she said was “uppy.”
The last time I carried her on her way to her elementary school, she was really much too big. We both knew it and it became a joke between us.
So I think there was something about that separation of the physical that had an effect on me. I know that it must have been a gradual thing, but it seemed like it happened very suddenly. We were reading in bed every night, and then suddenly we weren’t. And that was a little hard. I still miss that.
Somebody said to me, and I think it’s really true, that the parent/child relationship is the only close, intimate kind of human relationship where success is measured in the ability to separate. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but it’s very true. I think the melancholy in the film is rooted in that.
Clouds and Colour Consultant
Sunniva Fluge Hole
Kevin Dean (socan © 2017)
Pollack Hall, Schulich School of Music, McGill University, Montreal
Jean Paul Vialard
Simen Gengenbach (NFK)
Rosalina Di Sario
Tonje Skar Reiersen
Everyone at Mikrofilm
Stian Skar Skuterud
Commissioning Editor NFI
Kari Moen Kristiansen
Senior Advisor Production NFI
Bjørn Arne Odden
Produced with support from
The Norwegian Film Institute
Fritt ord foundation
a co-production of
The National Film Board of Canada