Actress Sarah Wessendorf who plays Pia in "CPH"
Hundreds of books and studies have been published on the trauma soldiers face after they leave the battlefield. For civilians though, the challenges these soldiers face as they try to assimilate back into society and return to their old lives are almost impossible to truly understand. However, powerful stories like the one depicted in the recently released film “CPH” give us, as outsiders, a chance to relate a little closer to what many soldiers experience on the other side of war.
Directed by Eitan Sarid (“A Trip to Jaffa”), “CPH” follows a former Israeli soldier, played by award-winning actor Dorin Amit (“Hannah’s Journey”) and his wife Pia, played by Sarah Wessendorf, as they try to make a new life for themselves in Copenhagen.
“CPH,” which was filmed in Israel, was chosen as an Official Selection of the Jerusalem Film Festival where it was nominated for the Best Picture Award, as well as the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival. Dorin Amit and Sarah Wessendorf each give powerful performances that leave a lasting impression on audiences.
For German actress Sarah Wessendorf, the intense nature of the story and the director behind “CPH” were major draw factors in her decision to take on the role of Pia.
“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,” explains Wessendorf. “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.”
“CPH” tells a poignant story of a man who hopes that by creating distance between himself and his life in the Israeli army that he will somehow be able to escape the trauma of the past. At the root of this soldier’s story is one we can all relate to in terms of the past shadows and wounds that we often try to avoid.
Wessendorf says, “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.”
While the soldier and his wife Pia initially seem to be moving on with their lives in Copenhagen, the past comes crashing down on them when they get an unexpected visit from one of the former soldier’s battle comrades. From there, all of the undealt with trauma the soldier harbors comes flooding to the surface.
“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,” explains Wessendorf.
Exposing the depth of trauma that comes along with war and the raw and uncomfortable process of facing it, the narrative story in “CPH” stresses the importance of having a strong support system in order to stand up to one’s demons and that is revealed through Pia’s relationship with her husband.
“[Pia] 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,” says Wessendorf.
As her husband suffers through flashbacks from the war and feelings of being disconnected from society, Wessendorf’s character Pia continues to stick by his side; and while she may not be able to directly understand his experience her presence serves as a constant support in his healing.
“It’s clear that Sarah has had training of different kinds, but what really sets her apart is her ability to go into the deep, pulsing humanity of the characters she embodies. That can’t be taught,” explains “CPH” director Eitan Sarid. “People from the film crew would come up to her and compliment her on her performance. Everyone was captured by the way she portrayed her role.”
Sarid says, “I have a deep respect and admiration for Sarah as an actress and person. Working with her was a joy. She was so ready and so able to go deep with the character.”
In addition to being a narrative film director, Sarid has also been the director behind numerous music videos for Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis, Sun Tailor and Mala Mala, and commercials for Volkswagen, Eurovision and more.
For Wessendorf, who had been living and working as an actress in Tel Aviv prior to shooting the film, “CPH” was a pivotal story that needed to be told; and the performance she gives in the film prove that she was the perfect actress to play the film’s leading lady.
“Sarah brings talent, depth and her life experience from living and working in Milan, Tel Aviv, Paris and Berlin. These are invaluable experiences where she invested in herself and her career, and it shows. She is one of a kind,” says Sarid. “I am very much looking forward to working with her in the future.”
In addition to helping viewers relate to the struggle of a soldier, the story in “CPH” also holds the power to provide soldiers with further confirmation that they are not alone in their trauma. While the film’s story is one that anyone who has served in the military can relate to, it is even more relevant for those in Israel where military service is mandatory for all of the country’s able-bodied citizens.
“Shooting in Israel was definitely very interesting for me. I could tell that the story was 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,” says Wessendorf. “Then it becomes the ultimate goal to somehow heal these experiences from the army which proves to not always be that easy… 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.”
Though the story in “CPH” can’t reverse the trauma soldiers face after war, it does serve as a powerful tool for audiences to relate and better understand their struggle and at the end of the day, this is one of the best uses of film as a medium for impacting society. And, with a strong cast to bring each character to life with strong human emotion it’s not at all surprising that film was nominated for Best Picture at the Jerusalem Film Festival.