Lone Scherfig • Director of The Kindness of Strangers
“There is this kind of compassion – and it’s worth illuminating”
by Jan Lumholdt
- BERLIN 2019: Danish Berlin favourite Lone Scherfig opens this year’s competition with her new film, The Kindness of Strangers, which she shed light on for us
As the powerful Danish film wave rolled in at the turn of the millennium, the work of Lone Scherfig garnered increasing attention. After her first two well-received features, The Birthday Trip and On Our Own, she made a worldwide smash hit with Italian for Beginners, which led to international assignments – most recently, Their Finest [+see also:
interview: Lone Scherfig
film profile]. In her own scriptwriting, she often returns to anonymous people in trouble who are given a break in this not-entirely-hopeless world. Her new film, The Kindness of Strangers [+see also:
interview: Lone Scherfig
film profile], screening in competition at the 69th Berlinale (7-17 February), fits this description well.
Cineuropa: Is The Kindness of Strangers related to Italian for Beginners? There seem to be some almost cousin-like characters in the two films.
Lone Scherfig: It is, and there are. I would also relate the character of Marc directly to Wilbur in Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself [+see also:
film profile]. If I had been a novelist, I would have returned to certain tonal things now and again. I try not to repeat myself, but also, I know this is what I can do.
Additionally, kindness is certainly no stranger to your universe. How did you work this theme into your American setting?
The situation in Trump’s USA seems to make people more pro-active, loving and charitable. It is my impression that some Americans feel more responsible than we do in Europe. Of course, it has to do with the very different tax systems; in Denmark, we pay extremely high taxes in order to have a security system, and then we feel we have done our bit. But kindness is about more than this; it’s about not ignoring people in need who are right next to you, or acknowledging your own need for other people – strangers, as it were. Even in Scandinavia, in a very difficult situation, you can be crying on the shoulder of a nurse you just met. So yes, there is this kind of compassion – and it’s worth illuminating.
New York is a character in itself in the film, given a special look and feeling. How did you create this portrait?
It’s about this huge machine and those who keep the wheels turning, a massive manifestation of what millions of people can create together and how they can co-exist. Just look at the architecture – we did this! And I have deliberately attempted to show the different layers, like the massive laundry room underneath the great, fancy department store.
Where did you shoot?
In Toronto and Hamilton, Canada, in Copenhagen, and then a couple of days in New York. Then we were quite creative and stylish in order to present the version that you see. I have drawn some inspiration from my own visits in the 1970s and a New York that then changed a lot during the Reagan years.
The Kindness of Strangers is your first directorial effort produced by Creative Alliance, a company that you founded together with other local colleagues to create Scandinavian quality in English-language cinematic form. What made you want to be “in control” like this?
I enjoyed working in England, where I’m a small fish in a big pond. I’ve never worked in Hollywood, though, and the scripts I get from LA often look like things I’ve already done – which makes sense because I’ve proven myself. But I want to challenge myself to a certain extent – for example, by taking on something really technically demanding. I want to pursue this with scripts that I want to spend both the audience’s and my own time with. All of these days and nights away from your family have got to be driven by more than just prestige and money.
What will be your next venture?
An Italian-set father-and-son story called Falling for Florence. I wrote it together with a childhood friend a few years ago, with Bill Nighy in mind. This was before he was cast in Their Finest. It will be our third film together, and I feel very privileged to get to work in the morning and find him there.
Do you write in English yourself?
Yes, with the help of a friend who has lived in America for years. But I feel I have a nice knack for it, especially when I know who the actors are. And then they can polish things a bit.
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