Silja Hauksdóttir, the director and one of the writers of “Agnes Joy,” says she opened the film with a graphic vomiting scene to capture the “raw” relationship between its characters.
The film, Iceland’s entry into the Academy Awards International Film category, explores the explosive relationship of daughter Agnes (Donna Cruz) and her mother Rannveig (Katla Þorgeirsdóttir) as Agnes seeks independence from her frustrated, dissatisfied mother’s controlling ways. Their world is upended still more when a seductive new neighbor moves into town.
“Raw” was how TheWrap’s Joe McGovern described the movie’s first scene, in which hungover teenage daughter Agnes (Donna Cruz) is shown vomiting in a bathroom, only to be broken in on by her outraged mother. Rannveig is more concerned about whether Agnes will be still able to perform on the violin than her daughter’s plight. When McGovern asked Hauksdóttir about the creative choice, she agreed with his assessment.
“The word ‘raw’ that you used, it is definitely something that was right in the middle of what I was thinking in regards to filming it,” she said. “When the script was written, this wasn’t the first scene in the film…in the editing phase we changed it. We just wanted to put the strength and the energy into showing how different the mother and daughter were at this point, the very different places they were in.”
Daughter Agnes is Cruz’s first movie role, which she said she landed after being invited to audition by one of the casting directors via Facebook. She said she had no hesitation about the opening scene or any of the other challenging scenes in the film, including rebellious Agnes practicing the art of pole dancing after lying to her parents that she was taking a CrossFit class.
Well, there was one small problem with that: “It did actually hurt, we did that I think it was 15 or 20 times, and I didn’t know this but your skin is the only thing holding you up on the pole.” Nevertheless, the athletic Cruz, who is currently training for a marathon, kept going to pole fitness classes after shooting was over and highly recommends it.
“I kind of just trusted, ” Cruz said. “I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to being on set and acting and everything, and everything was just so surreal for me. I was just excited being there and being part of this beautiful project….I didn’t ask too many questions about how it was going to turn out.”
The movie is also frank in its depictions of sexuality, particularly for Þorgeirsdóttir. Like Cruz, she said she was able to work through the resistance in order to depict the truth of her character.
“There were scenes I was afraid of doing, quite honestly, like being naked, and…yeah, you know what I’m talking about, some scenes were quite personal, I’m not going to spoil anything,” she said with a laugh. “We talked about frames, how it was going to look, and yeah, in the end it was no problem at all.”
In the film, it is clear that Cruz is adopted, but all three women love the fact that this plot point is secondary to the story. “Their problem is not related to blood, it’s communication. Making them not from the same DNA kind of made that clearer,” Hauksdóttir said. “When we do have problems that we share with our family, it’s how we talk or not talk, how we act or not act, not from the blood that we share.”
The movie was completed before the pandemic, and Hauksdóttir said the isolated region has been lucky to have a limited problem with COVID-19. However, looking at the film after the fact, she realized that Rannveig is fighting with her battle with her family in her own living room like the world’s COVID shut-ins have been doing for almost a year.
“It’s a bit more current than I knew it would be,” she said.
Watch the “Agnes Joy” discussion, above.