“One Day” seems to have an easy premise.
Based on a novel by David Nicholls, the film depicts a 20-year friendship/relationship between Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dex (Jim Sturgess), visiting them on only one July day, each year.
Except that the couple doesn’t actually meet on that day every year. And then it gets even more complex.
“It’s hard to explain the construction of this film in a quick, uncomplicated way,” says Danish-born director Lone Scherfig, 52, That structure provided Scherfig with rules that needed to be overcome. For example, if the characters fight and make up the next day, vievers don’t get to see the make-up part.
Sherfig drew upon her experience with “Dogme ‘95,” a method that required filmmakers to adhere to minimalist rules designed to move cinema closer to reality.
With her “Italian for Beginners” (2002), which was arguably the most delightful of the dour “Dogme ‘95” films, Scherfig learned the value of limitations.
“This kind of structure, it’s a gift. There are highlights of their life that you never see. But you zoom in on all the other turning points. You keep your mind open for whatever life that might enter the story that you hadn’t planned on,” she says.
Scherfig graduated in 1984 from the National Film School of Denmark (Lars von Trier is a fellow alumnus), harboring a secret love for Hollywood films.
“It was a political period. Humor was not in fashion. We were completely focused on the visual, inspired by the best of the European and Russian directors. American films were something you did on your own time,” she says.
After two Danish features and the international breakthrough of “Italian for Beginners,” Scherfig made her English-language debut with 2004’s black comedy “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.”
“Just Like Home,” a 2008 experimental comedy written at the same time as it was shot, screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Then came 2009’s “An Education,” which received three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Scherfig describes working with Oscar-nominee Hathaway as “musical.” “There are not many detours from her emotion to what you see on the screen,” she says. “She’s extremely complicated, but the acting itself is not complicated.”
Notwithstanding her experimenting with form, for Scherfig emotion comes first. “One Day,” she says, “has moments that are sadder than anything I’ve done. But I like humor. People ask me why my tragedy always has to be a little bit humorous.”
While she’s a huge Hitchcock fan – she says she wants to explore all the San Francisco locations in his films – she says she does not work like him. “[With] Hitchcock, it’s all about precision. I think it suits this film let the moment inspire you.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Rafe Spall
Written by David Nicholls
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Running time 1 hour 48 minutes