Art of Crying: Interview with Director Peter Schoenau Fog

Peter Schoenau Fog, Director of Art of Crying, Denmarks Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

Making The Art of Crying was a long process. Peter Schoenau Fog worked on it for more than five years, fine-tuning the script with the writer Bo Hr. Hansen. We had to do a lot of rewrites to make people happy, he says.

The film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Erling Jespen, a playwright for 20 years. It is his second novel and Peter Schoenau Fogs first feature film. Although its autobiographical he uses the tools of his craft to tell the story. So its probably as true as he could tell the story, says Peter.

As in the book, the film is told from the viewpoint of the 11-year-old boy. He is part of a dysfunctional family, but he is so young and nave that he doesnt realize other families arent quite like his. Although the subject matter is grim, it is told in a tender, even humorous way. The real-life 14-year-old sister in the story was traumatized for years by her fathers sexual abuse, in and out of mental institutions, but once the book was published she made a remarkable recovery.

It may be like in the fairy tales that when you say the name of the troll out loud, the troll disappears, Peter says. I hadnt really thought of it as trying to mix tragic and humorous elements in some kind of strange emotional meal. My main ambition has been to address the subject matter.

I felt, when I read the novel, that if we were able to tell the story like he did, through the eyes of the boy, we might be able to tell it in a way that people will actually dare to stay in the cinema, he says.

Its a drama told from the viewpoint of an 11-year-old boy who doesnt really understand what drama is. Its told through his innocence and his lack of understanding of the world.
Were not trying to make fun of a very tragic subject matter. Instead, were trying to deal with it in a way that will encourage people to think about it and have a deeper understanding of the problem. People tend to think that I am a cynical filmmaker who just wants to push emotional buttons. That is definitely not my intention.

In Denmark there has always been a very special quiet atmosphere in the cinema after the film. Its definitely a film where audience members wont pick up and continue the discussion they had before entering the cinema, as they do with most films. The Danish audience has really appreciated it and it has done surprisingly good business. We have been awarded the Nordic Council Prize given to the Best Nordic film of the year (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland).

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is that, though it is Danish, it had to be sub-titled for Danish audiences. It was shot in South Jutland, just one kilometer from the German border, where the dialect is very hard for Danes in other parts of the country to understand. The children who acted in the film were from that region, but Jesper Asholt, who plays the father, had to listen to recordings of all his lines and learned them that way.
Jannick Lorenzen, who was 11 when the film was shot, has no plans to continue acting. Im going to quit while Im ahead, he told the director. In fact he went to the casting call because his mother thought it would be a fun thing to do. He only agreed to go if she would take him to McDonalds afterwards.

Thank God for McDonalds, says Schoenau Fog.