Anja Breien (born 12 July 1940)[1] is a Norwegian film director and screenwriter. One of the leading figures of the Norwegian film industry,[2] and one of the first women to rise to prominence as a writer-director in Norway,[3] Breien's body of work in fiction and documentary explores social and political issues, notably women's rights within the context of Norwegian society.[3][4]

Anja Breien
Anja Breien 2016.jpg
Anja Breien in 2016 (Ankara, Turkey)
Born (1940-07-12) 12 July 1940 (age 81)
Oslo, Norway
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter
Years active1967-present


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.[2] She began working in film as a script supervisor on the Nils R. Müller film Det Store Varpet in 1961.[2] She also worked as an assistant director on Hunger (Sult) (1966), directed by Henning Carlsen and based on the novel by Knut Hamsun.[5]

Breien's first film as a director and screenwriter was a short in 1967 titled Growing Up,[6] 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.[7] Her first feature-length film was Rape (Voldtekt), released in 1971.[2] Rape was praised by critics,[2] but also sparked debate due to its criticism of the Norwegian criminal justice system.[3]

Breien subsequently wrote and directed Wives (Hustruer) (1975), which became a box-office success and received critical acclaim throughout Scandinavia.[4] 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.[5] 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.[2]

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.[5] Witch Hunt was entered into the main competition of the 1981 Venice Film Festival.[6]

Breien's 1979 film Next of Kin (Arven), also known as Heritage and The Inheritance,[2] a drama about a Norwegian family in conflict over an inheritance,[8] was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival;[2] it ended up winning the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.[6]

Breien has directed most of the films produced from her screenplays, one exception being 1994's Second Sight (Trollsyn), directed by Ola Solum.[3]

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.[2] 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.[9]


Breien is noted for her realist approach to storytelling, her use of the long take, and her use of a slow, contemplative pace.[5] Rape (1971) uses a non-chronological storytelling technique and has been compared to Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011).[4]

Selected filmographyEdit

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 nominationsEdit

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


  1. ^ "Anja Breien - Biography - Movies & TV -". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Retrieved 9 March 2016.[dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Anja Breien - English". Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Kristjansson-Nelson, Kyja (2015). "Norway". In Nelmes and Selbo (ed.). Women Screenwriters: An International Guide. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 518.
  4. ^ a b c "Museum of the Moving Image - Programs - Anja Breien: Games of Love and Loneliness". Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Kindem, Gorham A. (1987). "Norway's New Generation of Women Directors: Anja Breien, Vibeke Lokkeberg, and Laila Mikkelsen". Journal of Film and Video.
  6. ^ a b c "16th T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival - Hommage: Anja Breien". Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  7. ^ "17. mai - en film om ritualer - English". Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  8. ^ "Arven - English". Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  9. ^ "Solvorn - English". Retrieved 29 March 2016.

External linksEdit