”Here I am with my big bear and my small bear – and I am so happy”! That was a particularly sympathetic part of the acceptance speech Pernille Fischer Christensen delivered at the Berlinale in 2006, after being awarded both the award for best debut and later on the jury’s Grand Prix, the silver bear. The Danish film-wave was at its peak and its latest star was Pernille Fischer Christensen. A soap (En soap, 2006) is as gentle a story as it is a rough story of a recently separated young woman, a man about to become a woman, and the equally irrational and true love growing between them.
Before A soap she had already made a name for herself with several shorts, not least with her graduation film Indien (1999) at the National Film School of Denmark, which was invited to Cannes, and her longer short Habibti My Love (Habibti min elskede, 2003), awarded the Danish film award Robert for best short. Her feature film debut certainly lived up to the expectations.
Pernille Fischer Christensen’s journey into film making began with the cinema visits her film-loving mother was more than happy to make with her daughter. Kurosawa, Pasolini and Bertolucci was on the menu, and ignited a new interest along with her previous ones; literature, poetry, dancing, painting, and music. As time went on, she found herself drawn to the one art form capable of combining all of them.
She first entered the film business in the late 80’s, as a sort of Jack of all trades to Tómas Gislason, the editor and later director, who at the time was a frequent collaborator of Lars von Trier. She sat in on their conversations on film, and was subsequently influenced by their thoughts and discussions. In 1993 she was accepted at the European Film College in Ebeltoft, where, together with cinematographer Nanna Arnfred, she developed what they called hypnograms, “sleep-letters”, small experimental films playing with form and style, resembling “the state you’re in when you’re about to wake up, when sleep and dreams linger” as she herself explained it. Films like The Mirror (Zerkalo, 1975) by Tarkovskij was a source of inspiration. Together, they made a total of four hypnograms, of which The Girl Named Sister (Pigen som var søster, 1996) won an Italian festival prize.
In 1995-99 she attended the film directing programme at the National Film School of Denmark, where she first met actress Trine Dyrholm, who after being awarded a Bodil (Danish film prize) for her amateur acting in Spring Tide (Springflod, 1990) had gone on to study at the State Performing Arts School (today The Danish National School of Performing Arts) and would soon become one of the most successful actors of her generation. One could argue that Dyrholm, in a certain sense, has become something of an on-screen alter-ego for Fischer Christensen; their collaborations stretch, as of today, across five films.
A soap introduced another important partner into her creative process, Kim Fupz Aakesson was already at the time a well-established script writer and has since co-written all of Fischer Christensen’s films. The two are also privately a couple.
So far Pernille Fischer Christensen has made five feature films; the most personal one is A Family (En familie, 2010), created from her own experiences of her father’s passing in 2001 it is a mixture of personal memories and a desire to portray a situation which any family might find themselves in.
A soap, Dancers (Dansen, 2008), and Someone You Love (En du elseker, 2014) are all intimate dramas, at times almost like chamber plays, telling stories of more or less heart-broken people who manage to at least somewhat patch themselves up and move on – always leaving us with a sense of hope when exiting the cinema.
Pernille Fischer Christensen’s working methods are close to those of an anthropologist and, in the vein of Mike Leigh, she’s happy to let the actors create the backstories for their characters. The visual aesthetics are straightforward and “not manipulated”; if it rains during a take she’ll include it in the script, should the sun be shining that will become part of the story – anything to be able to travel into a life on the screen. In Someone You Love, written specifically for Swedish actor Michael Persbrandt, his own quite wild lifestyle becomes a central part of the character: the party-exhausted rock star. In Persbrandts’ memoirs he talks of how even a very personal and difficult relapse during the shoot was used and exploited by the director, to find the right spark. Such choices points, if nothing else, to the fact that it would be rather unnecessary for Fischer Christensen to make a film within the Dogme genre, as it is already much too close to her own filmmaking style.
In an interview in 2006 (Svenska Dagbladet) she does credit the Dogme way of making films with the ability to focus on the psychological aspects of the human drama, while a big budget can hardly be seen as any kind of guarantee for quality (A soap had a budget of nine million Swedish crowns). In the interview she is also quite unforgiving in her critique of the then contemporary Swedish film in regard to what is, in her opinion, unstructured scripts lacking what she labels “it”. Among several examples the film Dalecarlians (Masjävlar, 2004) is mentioned, its director Maria Blom would later on in her next feature film Nina Frisk (2007) thank none other than Kim Fupz Aakeson in the credits, presumably for scriptwriting advice…
Pernille Fischer Christensen has now also become a part of the group of Danish colleagues directing Swedish biopics (Per Fly directed Monica Z, Janus Metz Borg) with Becoming Astrid (Unga Astrid, 2018), a story about internationally renowned author Astrid Lindgren’s younger years, which premiered at Berlinale 2018. This film might be the closest this filmmaker has ever come to making a commissioned film, yet it is very likely that some of her auteur traits she has no doubt acquired will show in the finished product.
Jan Lumholdt (2018. Translation Freya Kilander)
Main profession: Director
Unga Astrid 2018
En du elsker 2014
En familie 2010
En soap 2006
Habibti min elskede 2002
Hypnogram 1-4 1997
Pigen som var søster 1996
Honda Honda 1996
Poesie album 1994
Unga Astrid 2018
En du elsker 2014
En familie 2010
Den store badedag 1991
D.A.D: True Believer 2008
Read more about the films at Svensk Filmdatabas (SE)
CICAE pris 2014 Festroia Setubal 2014 En du elsker
Audience Award – Best International Feature: Pernille Fischer Christensen, Sisse Graum Jørgensen 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival 2014 En du elsker
FIPRESCI AWARD 2010 Berlinale 2010 En familie
SIGNIS Jury Award: Pernille Fischer Christensen 2010 Troia Int. Film Festival (Setúbal) 2010 En familie
Bedste Film: Pernille Fischer Christensen 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival 2010 En familie
Baltischer Filmpreis 2008 Lübeck, Nordische Filmtage 2008 Dansen
Bedste Instruktør 2008 Cairo International Film Festival 2008 Dansen
Bodil, Bedste Danske Spillefilm: Pernille Fischer Christensen 2007 Bodil Filmmedarbejderforeningen 2007 En soap
Sølv Bjørn, Jury Grand Prix: Pernille Fischer Christensen 2006 Berlinale 2006 En soap
Bedste debutspillefilm 2006 Berlinale 2006 En soap
Debutantprisen 2006 Trondheim Kosmorama International Film Festival 2006 En soap
Bedste Manus 2006 Athens International Film Festival 2006 En soap
Don Quixote Award 2006 Bratislava Art Film Festival 2006 En soap
Turkish Cinema Critic’s Association Award 2006 Ankara Festival on Wheels 2006 En soap
Silver Goose Award 2006 Ankara Festival on Wheels 2006 En soap
Natsværmer Pris: Pernille Fischer Christensen 2006 Copenhagen Night Film Festival 2006 En soap
Special Prize of The Jury 2004 Angers Premiers Plans 2004 Habibti min elskede
Robert, Bedste Korte Novellefilm 2003 Danmarks Film Akademi Robert-uddeling 2003 Habibti min elskede