What makes Lone Scherfig special is her way of making romantic, humorous films that make you compassionate for other people. She shows vulnerability within her characters and makes us see them and feel the same. She is inspired by her Nordic heritage and believes that it helps one learn to live contentedly with what one has.
A personal favourite of mine is Scherfig’s breakthrough in Danish cinema: ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS (2000). The film was made by the austere principles of the Dogme 95 movement, including the use of handheld cameras and natural lighting. The tagline of the film is ‘love for losers’ and Scherfig teaches us that being a loser is not dramatically different from everyday people. Scherfig invites us to see people’s flaws by sharing the characters’ stories and vulnerabilities that we, on some level, might recognize in ourselves.
Scherfig teaches us that love is within reach. The road to happiness is taking small steps and there is no magical ending, as classic Hollywood romance often likes to give. Scherfig makes us care about her characters and doesn’t give them an easy way out. Even her Hollywood success AN EDUCATION (2009) portrays feminist values in leading character Jenny (Carey Mulligan), who has to choose between her independence and getting her education or a glamorous and adventurous life with a rich man, David. She, of course, chooses the hard and boring path, which again proves Scherfig’s way of making her romantic stories more realistic.
Scherfig chooses the hard path for not only her characters, but also for herself, as she was inspired by her own obstacles. In dogme films, you’re not allowed to add to the picture, but you can remove from it. Scherfig is capable of making obstacles work for her and let them benefit the story, as she did in AN EDUCATION where they didn’t have a budget to make a big setting London in 1964. Scherfig’s solution was to make David turn down the gear of his car and drive very slowly through the set of one street in London with Jenny. She doesn’t want to go home just yet and this is David’s way of making the ride longer.
None of the films Lone has done have been comedies, but she uses jokes and humour for the sense of feel good elements. For her, “humour is a low hanging fruit – it’s easy to pick, but sometimes you should not choose to pick it because it is better for the story”. The film has to work even if you take out the humour; thereby it only complements the story and adds to its light-hearted side. When Scherfig made AN EDUCATION, she started to trust her own sense of humour. Because she was hired as a foreign director, she trusted her voice was worth something and that her humour would translate well to the audience.
Scherfig uses happy endings to deal with difficult issues, such as being a loser looking for love. She creates an environment where people dare to be funny and where humour lights the mood in difficult moments. That’s what makes Scherfig’s happy endings stand out from the rest – they are built on authentic characters, which you truly come to care for.