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"In the Saddest Moments, I Want to Do Comedy:" Lone Scherfig on Her Sparkling New Film, Their Finest

"In the Saddest Moments, I Want to Do Comedy:" Lone Scherfig on Her Sparkling New Film, Their Finest

Interviews

MM: Talk about the tone of the film and the how difficult to get the balance between comedy and drama considering the war setting.

LS: I get more and more fearless. There is a scene with Nighy in a morgue and the nurse cracks an unintentional joke: There’s an air raid warning, and she says, “Look, you’re welcome to stay the night. There’s plenty of room in the morgue.” And he looks around scared, and that line, in a very tragic scene, is a morbid joke. In England they have that dry, morbid humor, so I’m grateful to hear people in other countries laugh in the same places. But it is one of the reasons why I like working in England; no one questions that kind of humor, it’s completely accepted.

We had a fire when we shot An Education—there was a house on fire; all the extras, the supporting actors, and the wardrobe and backstage crews were in the house, and people just stood in the street cracking jokes. People helped, but there was no sense of panic. They go on autopilot. People are wittier than you’d imagine as they’re scattered in the street. It’s a very interesting cultural trait.

MM: Besides being a story focused on a woman there is so happily so much female involvement on the film. Beginning with you, there is also the screenwriter, the author of the book the film is based on, and so on. What that intentional?

LS: Also composer Rachel Portman, production designer Alice Normington, costume designer Hannah Walter and three of the producers (Finola Dwyer, Elizabeth Karlsen and Amanda Posey). It’s something I didn’t realize until I was proof-reading the front credits, because they were the people who were best for the job and available. It wasn’t a conscious decision.

MM: When I interviewed cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Fences) recently I spoke to her about her Dogme influence of running around with a handheld camera for many of the scenes. Do you still find yourself influenced by the Dogme 95 movement?

LS: Yes, I do. I think [Christensen] does too because she worked with Thomas Vinterberg and he was one of the Dogme founders. In Dogme, you rely a little more on coincidence and on real life and on imperfection, and I can see it in Thomas Vinterberg’s work. I can see it in Lars von Trier’s work. And I can definitely see it in my own work. What I did after Italian for Beginners is much less anxiety-ridden. And the shoot itself becomes more fun. But, of course, Their Finest doesn’t look like a Dogme film. I hope it doesn’t, because technically Their Finest is much more complicated.

But yes, it is a really good way of becoming a good director. For a long time they [taught] it at the Danish Film School because you find out what kind of director you are when you are deprived of technical equipment. You can judge a chef by his omelet [laughs].

Scherfig’s 2000 film Italian for Beginners

MM: Ms. Christensen told me about the challenges of working on a film set for three months; she takes her small children with her. Do you think the atmosphere will change for women moviemakers?

LS: I don’t think that’s changing. If two people have a career and children, someone has to sacrifice something. It could very often be the children’s sacrifice to live without seeing their parents very much. It’s helped me that I also write, because I spend much more time at home when I’m writing, and that I have a husband who’s always put on his shoes in the morning and gone to the office, because I’ve worked hard on films that didn’t happen and I’ve had him as a support. If I’d been the sole bread winner, there were risks I couldn’t have run.

MM: Your next film is entitled, tentatively anyway, Secrets From the Russian Tea Room. What can you say about the film?

LS: Yes. I’m shooting it right around the corner. I was [in America] in the 1980s, I actually spent more time here than in England, just as a tourist, again and again and again and again. But the film takes place now. Some of the scenes will be set [at New York restaurant the Russian Tea Room], but it’s inspired by American charity. The love for our next of kin, “love your neighbor”—that is the theme. MM

Their Finest opens in theaters April 7, 2017, courtesy of STX Entertainment. Their Finest photographs by Nicola Dove.

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