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Anja Breien

Anja Breien Norwegian film director and screenwriter

Norwegian film director and screenwriter
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Norwegian film director and screenwriter
Is Film director Screenwriter
From Norway
Type Film, Television, Stage and Radio
Gender female
Birth 12 July 1940, Oslo, Eastern Norway, Norway, Union between Sweden and Norway
Age: 79 years
Star sign CancerCancer
The details

Anja Breien (born 12 July 1940) is a Norwegian film director and screenwriter. One of the leading figures of the Norwegian film industry, and one of the first women to rise to prominence as a writer-director in Norway, Breien's body of work in fiction and documentary explores social and political issues, notably women's rights within the context of Norwegian society.


After completing her studies in French at the University of Oslo, Breien went on to graduate from the French film school L'Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) in 1964. She began working in film as a script supervisor on the Nils R. Müller film Det Store Varpet in 1961. She also worked as an assistant director on Hunger (Sult) (1966), directed by Henning Carlsen and based on the novel by Knut Hamsun.

Breien's first film as a director and screenwriter was a short in 1967 titled Growing Up, followed by her short documentary 17. May – A Film about Rituals (17. Mai – En film om ritualer) (1969), a satirical look at the celebration of the Norwegian National Day. Her first feature-length film was Rape (Voldtekt), released in 1971. Rape was praised by critics, but also sparked debate due to its criticism of the Norwegian criminal justice system.

Breien subsequently wrote and directed Wives (Hustruer) (1975), which became a box-office success and received critical acclaim throughout Scandinavia. Wives was inspired as a feminist response to John Cassavetes' Husbands (1972), and follows three women in their thirties who temporarily abandon their domestic responsibilities for a day of freedom. Breien went on to write and direct two sequels, Wives - Ten Years After (Hustruer 10 År Etter) (1985) and Wives III (Hustruer 20 År Etter) (1996), featuring the same characters ten and twenty years later.

In 1981's Witch Hunt (Forfølgelsen), Breien again critiqued her home country's patriarchal society through the story of a woman accused of witchcraft in 1630s western Norway. Witch Hunt was entered into the main competition of the 1981 Venice Film Festival.

Breien's 1979 film Next of Kin (Arven), also known as Heritage and The Inheritance, a drama about a Norwegian family in conflict over an inheritance, was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival; it ended up winning the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.

Breien has directed most of the films produced from her screenplays, one exception being 1994's Second Sight (Trollsyn), directed by Ola Solum.

In addition to her extensive work in fiction cinema, Breien has continued to make documentaries throughout her career, many of which have been screened internationally. Her short documentary Solvorn (1997), constructed around a series of photographs taken by Breien's grandmother, screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998.


Breien is noted for her realist approach to storytelling, her use of the long take, and her use of a slow, contemplative pace. Rape (1971) uses a non-chronological storytelling technique and has been compared to Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011).

Selected filmography

Year Film Role Genre
1967 Growing Up / Vokse opp Writer/Director Fiction short
1969 17. May – A Film about Rituals / 17. Mai – En film om ritualer Writer/Director Documentary short
1971 Rape / Voldtekt Writer/Director Fiction
1975 Wives / Hustruer Writer/Director Fiction
1977 Games of Love and Loneliness / Den allvarsamma leken Writer/Director Fiction
1979 Next of Kin / Arven Writer/Director Fiction
1981 Witch Hunt / Forfølgelsen Writer/Director Fiction
1984 Paper Bird / Papirfuglen Writer/Director Fiction
1985 Wives - Ten Years After / Hustruer 10 År Etter Writer/Director Fiction
1990 Twice Upon a Time / Smykketyven Writer/Director Fiction
1994 Second Sight / Trollsyn Writer Fiction
1996 Wives III / Hustruer III Writer/Director Fiction
1997 Solvorn / Solvorn Writer/Director Documentary short
2001 To See a Boat in Sail / Å se en båt med seil Writer/Director Fiction short
2005 Untitled – Sans Titre / Uten tittel Writer/Director Fiction short
2009 Etching / Riss Writer/Director Documentary short
2009 Yezidi / Jezidi Writer/Director Documentary
2012 From the History of Chewing Gum / Fra tyggengummiens historie Writer/Director Documentary short

Awards and nominations

Year Festival Award Film Result
1979 Cannes Film Festival Prize of the Ecumenical Jury Next of Kin / Arven (1979) Won
1979 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Next of Kin / Arven (1979) Nominated
1984 Chicago International Film Festival Silver Hugo Paper Bird / Papirfuglen (1984) Won
2001 Berlin International Film Festival Prix UIP Berlin To See a Boat in Sail / Å se en båt med seil (2001) Won
2001 Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival Best Live-Action Short To See a Boat in Sail / Å se en båt med seil (2001) Won
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