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Interview: Lone Scherfig

By BRETT MICHEL  |  November 16, 2009

BM: I still have the music ingrained in my head! That’s now one of those movies where – it’s like the score that [Ennio] Morricone had done for Cinema Paradiso – where just as the movie starts, when the music first kicks in, I’m already an emotional wreck, simply due to the music and my now-Pavlovian response to it. 
LS: When we first did the montage where Wilbur tries to kill himself in the beginning of the film, we used the Cinema Paradiso theme, just mock-up music to see if the montage works. You need the music just for the editing. [She hums the first few bars of Morricone's Cinema Paradiso theme. I join in.]

We heard so much French film music in the preparation of this; the whole film has strong relations to the New Wave, the films that Jenny [Carey Mulligan] loves. There was twice in the script, that she talked about her love of French films, and I said 'you have to cut that out,' because you can't have someone on film talking about films! I just asked Nick Hornby, who adapted An Education from Lynn Barber's memoir, to try and steer clear of it [using the word "film"] because you lose the illusion. And I made such an effort to bring the audience back in time without them noticing.

Very often when you see period films, it’s hard to get emotionally related because you just sit and look at costumes and props and horse carriages and the odd little goose flying around. I wanted it to be just this kind of time machine, so you still have emotional relations to the characters even if they are in a different period. So I'm keen on not breaking that by having Jenny talk about the films that the film actually has some relation to, especially the Paris sequence.

John de Borman, the DoP, is half-French, and I have started in Paris when I was Jenny's age. So, when we were in Paris, we really felt at home [laughs] and it was a privilege to do something that looked like something that we both really loved when we were young. And those were the last proper shooting days – that Paris sequence. That was a nice wrap party! And we wanted it to be the cliché Paris that she's dreamt of…like a slightly faded youth memory. But apart from that, the film doesn't have these Dogme [the avant-garde filmmaking movement started in 1995 by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg] elements. Not much, anyway.

BM: Although yours [Italian for Beginners] is probably the most enjoyable – and watchable – Dogme I've seen.
LS: No, but this, I mean, An Education is more…conventional. Here, the camera is a little bit more…innocent, if you can call it that. When you see things with Jenny's eyes for the first time, it's…we try to get a little under her skin by using some elements of the Dogme tradition. And I can remember John de Borman saying after a while that he was beginning to understand what that way of thinking was about. But no one ever wanted it to have that, except as a device for giving some life to the material. But I do belong to that Dogme tradition, somehow. I think the way I encourage the actors to use props and to try and change things and give that freshness is because I knew that you can do it and still remain on both legs. You don't need to have very strict ideas of what's going to happen. You can have them in the background, but sometimes if you're open for change…it gets better – especially with that kind of cast.

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