Though different actors have a plethora of diverse personal reasons for choosing to take on a particular role or another, many will agree that there are some stories that just need to be told, ones that they just couldn’t pass up. Amongst other factors, that is one of the driving forces that drew actress Sarah Wessendorf, who’s originally from Germany, to join the Israeli film production of “CPH” directed by Eitan Sarid earlier this year. Wessendorf, who’s been acting since she was a child, recognized that “CPH” carried the potential to be one of those rare stories that could have a real impact on audiences. And she was right.
“CPH,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Jerusalem Film Festival where it was nominated for the prestigious Best Picture Award, depicts the postwar trauma a soldier often face years after they’ve left the battlefield. The film follows a former Israeli soldier who, along with his wife Pia played by Wessendorf, relocate to Copenhagen in hopes of starting a new life and leaving the past behind. If only it were that easy.
Shedding light on a topic that many soldiers across the globe continue to face, “CPH” is brought to life in a way that allows audience members to understand the very real traumas soldiers and their families face after the battle is over. For Wessendorf, this was a hugely important subject to dive into, and her performance as Pia in the film is simply flawless. She is caring and supportive of her husband through his trials and tribulations, yet she never fails to reveal her character’s vulnerabilities and the overwhelming difficulties that come along with being his wife and main support system.
Wessendorf says, “At some point you can not avoid facing your past. That being, said some places and people give us the strength we need to work through those painful experiences.”
An eye-opening film about trauma, healing and love, “CPH” is not to be missed; and lucky enough for us we got the chance to interview the film’s lead actress, Sarah Wessendorf.
Hey Sarah, thanks for joining us! Can you tell us a little bit about what happens in the film “CPH”?
SW: “CPH” is about an ex Israeli soldier who moves to Copenhagen to escape from his traumatic past in Israel. He moves there with his wife Pia, who I play in the film. When he gets to Copenhagen he gets a surprise visit from his army friend who breaks into the apartment when no one is there. When these old friends finally see each other they are faced with all the trauma and fears that my husband was trying to avoid all this time. In a way, his friend breaking into the apartment symbolizes the way that trauma will find a way to break through over and over again if we are not willing to take the time to sit down with it and to look it in the eye in order to accept and transform it.
Sounds like a very heavy story– what was it that made you want to be involved with this project?
SW: I have a deep admiration for Eitan Sarid as a director so when I saw that he was casting for the movie I immediately contacted him, and it worked out beautifully. I never shy away from a difficult or complex topic in movies. I think that those are the most important movies to be made. The only importance is to portray these topics in a respectful and sensitive way.
What is it about Eitan Sarid’s work that you admire? What was it like working with Eitan on set?
SW: Eitan Sarid is a wonderful director who gives the actors the space and freedom to bring their own ideas, knowledge and experience to the set. He has a clear idea of what he wants, but he is also open and interested to hear his actor’s own sense of the scene and the character, and then let it all come together. Working with Eitan feels safe, there is a lot of mutual respect. We became very good friends through the process of working together. I deeply respect his vision and his ability to tell stories and I’m very much looking forward to working with him in the future.
Can you tell us about your character in the film?
SW: I play Pia, the wife of the lead. She is from Denmark and so that aspect also signals a new energy that is not connected to the heaviness her husband experienced in Israel. She is next to him to help him build a new life and create a new identity. But when her husband is faced with his past trauma she too has to come to terms with the fact that she didn’t fully know her husband and that in order to love him fully she has to understand his pain and trauma.
What was it like working with Doron Amit who plays your husband in the film? How was the chemistry on set?
SW: Working with Doron was a real treat! He is a very talented actor and together we created this safe space where we both felt free to improvise and trust each other, we motivated each other to go even deeper into our characters’ feelings, fears and ultimately the bond the characters have.
What does Pia bring to the story? And how did you feel about playing the character?
SW: Pia’s role is a vital one, she adds an element of love and support to the film. She is the one who accepts and loves her husband no matter what. She is determined to have unending and unconditional love for her husband, and this is an active choice she reinforces over and over again, which gives her husband the strength and trust to, for the first time, look into his pain and try to heal.
I think that this is something that we as humans need in order to be able to move past certain traumas, to know somehow that there is a deep well of love underneath. A love that will catch you when you fall. No matter how we think we have it, I think it is a must to have that in order to open up and become vulnerable. This well if you will, is Pia in the film for her husband.
When you were creating your character and really becoming Pia, were there any experiences from your personal life that you looked to, or any other places that you turned to for inspiration?
SW: Definitely, I very much rely on a spiritual power to give me the strength and courage to look into childhood experiences which might not have been super and that I wanted to heal. I feel a very strong unconditional love from a higher wisdom, call it God if you will. I was very much comparing this to the unfailing love and patience that Pia has for her husband. Also I saw someone who deeply admires her husband for his strength and I’ve definitely felt this in previous relationships too, this immense respect for the life path that someone had been on.
Can you tell us about any challenges or memorable experiences from this project?
SW: Shooting in Israel was definitely very interesting for me. I could tell that the story was also a very personal one for the director and the other cast members since in Israel it is mandatory to go to the army. There of course you are prey to many traumatic experiences, which you will not be able to shield yourself from. Then it becomes the ultimate goal to somehow heal these experiences from the army which proves to not always be that easy. Especially when there are no therapists offered and therapy can be very expensive. It is up to the individuals to learn to cope as best as they can with those dark memories and then somehow learn to live with them.
What are your personal feelings on the fact that is so difficult for the soldiers to get approved for free therapy once they leave the army?
SW: That is of course unfortunate since a country greatly benefits from having mentally healthy citizens. It is a very complex topic though, one that could take hours to discuss. And I don’t think it is fair to a country to judge it without deeply diving into its history, its values and its hopes.
Was there any point during the filming where you felt like the story was too heavy to handle?
SW: No never. I was very much convinced that this was an important story to tell. And as a German I was very happy to be a part of it. I don’t shy away from heavy situations or topics. So this for me was rather a film that I felt honored to be a part of!
What was your favorite part of being involved in this production?
SW: There is something very special to be working as a German in an otherwise all Israeli cast. I feel very fortunate that I got the opportunity to work with such talented actors such as Yona Rozenkier and Doron Amit. Also I completely trusted Eitan Sarid’s vision. I felt very lucky to be part of a meaningful Israeli story in a film that also received such amazing reviews and feedback. But my favorite part was hands down the people. For some reason I always felt very connected to Israel and being surrounded by so much Israeli talent was a complete blast for me.
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
SW: My biggest wish would be that people realize that it is not always the way it seems when we see a fellow human being. From the outside everything might look wonderful, carefree and easy. But we can never really know where this person has come from, what scars he or she carries, what traumas they’ve experienced. I would love for the audience to understand that we need to foster a society of compassion and empathy, and a deeper love for each other. We all run through life with our own experiences, some are joyful and some painful. No one can run away from that. My wish is that we all learn to treat each other with more care and more love.
How do you feel about the film being chosen as an Official Selection of the Jerusalem International Film Festival and the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival?
SW: It was such thrilling news! I am so proud of all of us, because I know how hard we worked to make the movie what it is! I was not surprised that it has gotten the recognition that it did though. With all that talent around, it was easy to foresee that this movie would be an important one.