by Annika Pham
- With A Soap, winner of a Silver Bear and Best First Feature film in the last Berlinale, Pernille is now –yet- another-Danish filmmaker to watch
Born in 1969, Pernille Fischer Christensen graduated from The National Film School of Denmark in 1999 with the film Indien, a recipient of an award in Cannes’Cinefondation. In 2002, her short film Habibti My Love established her as an up-and-coming filmmaker.
Cineuropa: A Soap [+see also:
interview: Lars Bredo Rahbek
interview: Pernille Fischer Christensen
film profile] is opening across the world after a first theatrical release in Denmark last April. How was it received at home?
Pernille Fischer Christensen: The reception in Denmark was quite mixed and provoked a lot of controversy. Some Danish people thought that A Soap is not a film, but about what is a film, about film language. Although I’m not a Lars von Trier who often wants to be provocative, with my first feature film, I have tried to look at filmmaking, at men and women in a totally different way.
How did you collaborate with Danish 'scriptwriting guru' Kim Fupz Aakeson?
He is behind a lot of popular films in Denmark, and at the beginning I thought he wouldn’t be the right person for my film because I wanted to make something rather serious. But then he wrote the script for Annette K. Olesen’s In Your Hands [+see also:
film profile] selected in competition in Berlin 2004 and I started thinking I could use his way of approaching film. Meanwhile, I had been writing a script for a film about prostitutes and had met with a transvestite for my research. This encounter was to be crucial for me: during the whole meeting with that person, I had not been able to figure out his gender and almost lost my ability to communicate. This strange feeling had been overwhelming for me. So when I met with Kim, I knew I wanted to make a film about my reaction towards the transvestite. Why should we know about a person’s gender to be able to communicate?
I chose the actors and the location and Kim and I started working on the treatment. We decided it had to be a love story. We worked with the actors, asking them to reflect on people they knew and then discussed the characters altogether at treatment stage. Then I went on writing the first draft. Like Ken Loach, or Mike Leigh I work very closely and sincerely with the actors on their characters, using improvisation, letting actors bring their own stories as human beings. It makes it much more lively and real. I then finished writing the script with Kim, and we had two weeks of rehearsal with the text before shooting.
The film was make for less than €1m so we had no overtime at all during shooting and worked 8 hours a day for six weeks. The producer was very tough, so it was a good thing to be well prepared with the actors. As I wanted to bring out real emotions from the actors, we tried to seek the essence of each scene, going further into the characters relationships, looking not at what the characters say or do but at how they interact.
How did you cast David Dencik and Trine Dyrholm?
Actually, I don’t really know what got into me when I chose David Dencik because he was very masculine in his school work that I had previously viewed. Perhaps the way he uses his body was key to me. So the first thing I did was to go shopping with him for the shoes and clothes he’s wearing in the film! Trine Dyrholm was already in my graduation film Indien. I just love to work with her. We’re on the same wavelength and are both inquisitive…
Was it difficult to work within the set framework of New Danish Screen and with such a tight budget?
Not at all. We knew it was our budget and the whole project was created for that. With a low budget film, you get more freedom of speech without the financial pressure tied for example to a co-production. You can show more solidarity towards your characters as human beings and you can look for something else, for truth.
How was it to win a double prize in Berlin?
It was wonderful and now, I'm very happy with the way international professionals and audiences are responding to the film. It seems that this different way of depicting love has touched people’s hearts and souls because I receive thousands of letters and emails from around the world. If you start questioning what is a man and what is a woman, what is a human being and what makes him or her sexually attracted to one another, what makes you who you are, you touch something quite deep that people rarely have the opportunity to reflect upon.
Why do you think so many Danish films are popular these days both domestically and around the world?
Well in May, I had a meeting with the Danish cultural minister and Peter Aalbeck Jensen from Zentropa and Peter said that something is happening with the Danish Film Institute’s New Danish Screen trend the way something happened with Dogme in the 90s. And in 5-10 years, we’ll look back at A Soap, at Princess and see them as landmark films. When Lars von Trier launched the Dogme movement, I don’t know if he knew it would have such a major impact, but what I know is that I couldn’t have made my film without Dogme behind me because they opened doors for actors’ direction.
The other thing about Denmark, is that there are a lot of directors, and we all look at each other, help each other and even steal from each other!