Danish director Lone Scherfig might be best known among mainstream audiences for the Academy Award-nominated British film “An Education” (2009), but she got her start in the experimental Danish film collective Dogme 95. While a member of Dogme, Scherfig had to adhere to a set of rules mandating that the camera be handheld, shooting done on location, and the film could not be a genre movie. Her latest film, “One Day” (based on the 2009 David Nicholls novel of the same name) is a radical departure from that spartan context. The film is a romantic drama following the lives of Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) over the course of 20 years, during which they meet on one day of each year. We caught up with Scherfig in Chicago to talk about film school and the making of “One Day,” in theaters now.
Jennifer Swann: What is your background in film?
Lone Scherfig: I went to university and then film school. I had a theoretical background first (film theory, film history), and then I moved on to film school when I got old enough to apply. It was more art-oriented in the ’80s, and much more oriented toward European and Asian film-making, because it was in Copenhagen.
JS: How did that shape your views on film-making?
LS: It still is auteur-oriented, you get a very classical film language; but then, later on, I loosened up a lot and I became part of the Dogme movement. So I have a chapter in my cinema life where it was much more imperfect, and much more about obtaining life, working with a limited budget, and working under the Dogme rules. They were clearly inspiring and made me do a film [“Italian for Beginners,” 2000] that later enabled me to get jobs abroad, like this one.
JS: How did you become attached to this project, “One Day”?
LS: I got the first segment of the script, which is very nice and sweet. I loved the characters and it’s very humorous, until it grabs you and you just see tears dripping onto the page. I thought that it would be a privilege to spend a year or two of my life with Emma and Dexter, and get the challenge of making this whole time device work.
The real chemistry of the film is not that related to each year [within the film]. Stylistically, it’s a film where it’s almost like 20 little films that are put together. When they’re in the mid-’90s, the film style (the way people dress and talk, and the music) is of that period, but then I’m hoping that once you get to the last chapter of the film, you realize that you didn’t notice that the years passed [within the film]. But I need time away from the film to come back to it and see to what degree it works. I haven’t spent enough time away from the film to learn from it yet.
JS: The movie begins in the late 1980s and ends in the present day. Was it challenging to portray each year on film?
LS: There’s something completely basic about cinema. It’s a place where you go to see how other people live, where you get into other people’s homes and gardens and desk drawers, even. Part of you goes to the cinema because you’re interested in other people. Of course, there’s also the opposite mechanism, that you want the film to recognize you and find you where you are. Because of that, it has to be authentic.
London is very extreme when it comes to fashion, and Dexter is really fashion-conscious, so we had to tone it down a little; otherwise it would just be too on the nose. We did a big timeline on the wall where you saw these 20 years pass with tons of photographs, and the film would have just been too loud, and it would have overpowered the emotion, if we went even further with extreme detail.
JS: Did you feel you had an obligation to stay loyal to the book “One Day”?
LS: Yes, to the writer and to the readers. Because the book is so recent and so loved, and it’s realism, that makes it different than if I had shot “Wuthering Heights.” The only way to really be loyal is to do your best and insist on making film, not just filming the script.