In film, most “coincidence” is written ahead of time in the plot or dialogue or designed for the set or sewn into the costumes. At film festivals, where hundreds of productions vie for attention and “buzz” there can be coincidental themes (e.g., people living with disabilities is prominent in Palm Springs in 2008) but seldom does the coincidence of title occur. How curious, then, that JWR followed up a viewing of The Art of Negative Thinking by walking fifty yards to a screening of The Art of Crying (cross-reference below). Both films had found their way to this year’s “must-see” productions due to their subjects: life with disabilities and child abuse respectively. Their incredible proximity was as startling as their honest approach.
Mentioning this as JWR sat down for breakfast with Peter Schøneau Fog, director of The Art of Crying, drew a chuckle and quick rejoinder that “we had the title first!” It was a fun way to start a conversation that we both knew would have its more serious moments. We began with the genesis.
PF: I was born and raised on the island of Fanø and so grew up learning the Danish dialect of nearby southern Jutland—birthplace of the playwright/author Erling Jepsen whose novel of the same name (“70% of which is true/autobiographical”) was forwarded to me just as I finished my graduate film studies. Not even Jepsen’s wife had read it! I wondered if it would be possible to address the subject matter through the eyes of the boy [the novel was a first-person account]. But at the same time, there was also a commercial consideration: Who would go to see a film about child abuse? How could I make an “ordinary” type of discussion about one of the last remaining taboos? With molesters, you can’t see the horns on their heads—they can be anyone. Finally, after three tries to convince our government consultants [whose recommendations can make or break any Danish film] that through the eyes of Allan and accepting their suggestion to re-write the script in “chapter” format, we got the go-ahead.
JWR: You were fortunate to end up with Jannick Lorenzen as eleven-year-old Allan. How did you approach the casting?
PF: The first challenge was to find actors who could speak this localized version of Danish. (When the film premièred in Denmark it had to be subtitled in Danish.) At one point a couple of years back, we needed to make a pilot and had most of what became the final cast in place. But when we were finally ready to shoot, the original Allan was too old, so we had to find another. Fortunately, Allan 1 took on the part of Nis so remained in the production. Over the more than 2-month shoot [union rules only allow 8 hours per day, 5 days per week] Jannick showed great flexibility, a love of drumming and most thoroughly enjoyed his “barf” scene—one of the coolest kids I’ve met.
JWR: From classical art songs, to original chamber music, to wailing guitar styles of the early ‘70s, music plays a big part in reinforcing the action and moods. How did those choices come about?
PF: We knew from Jepsen that his father owned The Complete Aksel Schiøtz Recordings 1933-1946 [which includes Schubert’s Die schöen Müllerin and Schumann’s Dichterliebe, accompanied by the legendary Gerald Moore] and decided to use some of those when Dad weeps in self-pity. Here is a man who suffers from an extreme lack of self-confidence and desperately needs to be loved. Allan responds to those cries of anguish and threats from Dad to kill himself by using everything he’s got to keep Dad alive and the family together. The music worked better than we’d imagined in these scenes. The original music [Karsten Fundal employs a string quintet, piano and flute] is performed by musicians from the area and is Karsten’s first feature.
JWR: Such a difficult topic, but one that needs more discussion. What are the prospects for a more widespread release?
PF: Fifty years ago we did not have a language to intelligently discuss homosexuality; we only had hate and fear. Now, with child abuse, we have to be able to speak about it—how this is actually possible. It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect children. When we stop looking at others as human beings—it’s so much easier to divide people into good and bad—terrible things can happen. My hope is—and audiences seem to agree—that this film will expand the language and stimulate discussion; on the piano there are so many keys that are seldom used—we tend to stick to the familiar and the comfortable, whereas I prefer to use them all and add nuance and meaning to a too-often ignored subject. JWR