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Talking with 'One Day' director Lone Scherfig

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Posted: Monday, August 22, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 12:34 am, Mon Sep 19, 2011.

You probably don't know the director Lone Scherfig. Her name wasn't even in the credits of her first box-office success in the United States. Her second big hit here was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Screenplay, but she wasn't nominated.

Surely, if "One Day," her film about a two-decade on-and-off relationship that stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, is successful, Scherfig will finally be recognized as one of the world's most successful female directors.

"It was such a relief knowing before I started this film it had American distribution -- a first for me," said Scherfig during a recent visit to San Francisco. "Because as a European, that's what you aim for."

Scherfig, 52, is Danish -- she still lives in Copenhagen -- and has been making films for a quarter of a century. It wasn't until she joined in a bizarre Danish cinema movement called Dogme 95 that she found international success.

Dogme 95, begun in Denmark in 1995 by Lars von Trier ("Breaking the Waves") and Thomas Vinterberg ("A Celebration"), stipulated that no special effects, music, studio sets, artificial lighting or camera mounts can be used in the making of a Dogme film. And the director does not take credit for the film.

The goal was to "purify" cinema, and while von Trier, Vinterberg and others churned out some rather heavy and depressing films, it was Scherfig's relatively lighthearted "Italian for Beginners" (2001) that became a mainstream hit for Miramax in the United States.

Now she is making films in England. "An Education" (2009) garnered three Oscar nominations and made a star out of Carey Mulligan, and "One Day" is an adaptation of a British novel by David Nicholls.

Gorgeously filmed in London, "One Day" is about Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess), who meet on July 15, 1988, upon their college graduation.

Emma is a wannabe writer from working-class roots -- her first post-college job is working in a fast-food restaurant. Dexter has lived a privileged existence and soon becomes a reality-TV star, but is unhappy.

Every scene of the film is set on July 15, from 1988 to the present day.

When it's pointed out that the timeline of the film corresponds to Scherfig's life -- she is about the same age as Emma's character -- the director said she didn't think back to the '80s to try to relate.

"It wasn't whether I could relate to Emma; I wanted Emma and Anne Hathaway to meet," Scherfig said. "Now I'm so far away from Anne's age that it becomes more a different species and it becomes easier to see it from the outside, and yet I feel similarities as well. ... Some of the detours she takes I can identify with.

"I can see that not knowing what you can expect from love or not knowing that if you are less insecure and more confident you can focus on something that's not you. ... The older she gets, the happier she gets, and that's something I want to teach my daughter: Not worry so much about what people think."

Scherfig apparently likes to have very little drama in her own life. She's been married for two decades (her husband works in biotechnology) and says, "I'm not really interested in anything other than work."

She likes genre films and wants to connect with audiences, because being drawn into films while watching them is what made her want to make them.

In other words, she doesn't have an agenda except to tell a good story. And yet, she now feels more of an urge to tell women's stories.

"'An Education' was the first film I did with a female lead," she said. "It has been much easier for me to portray men because they're different. ... My first film showed in Puerto Rico in '89, and a woman got up in the audience and said, 'You should make feminist film.' Maybe I should. (Pause) I don't know. I haven't written anything with a female lead. I just don't find them as interesting.

"But if I hadn't had a daughter, I probably wouldn't have done 'An Education' or 'One Day.' It helps (in 'One Day') that it's Anne -- she comes from a different world than me and adds a warmth. She took Emma further away from me -- and that's a good thing."

 

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