The Director’s Cut: Language – Keeping it real

When you think about it, speaking is a remarkable thing, no matter what language is used. We use guttural sounds from our throat and mouth to communicate information and ideas to each other, and we can also code this via language and writing.

Authentic adlibbing
I love language, and I like Danish as much as I like the Irish Gaelic language – even though I’m not the best at speaking either. Filmmaking, for me, is storytelling through acting, music, sound, light and language – and words play an important part.

I get asked a lot: why are you now making films in the Danish language? Simply put, it can free up the actors to be more natural. A lot of the time language is about idiosyncrasies, cultural phrases and intonations – you cannot get that when you have a second language. You can get close and I found that out in my previous film ‘No Right Turn’ when I used mainly Danish actors speaking English.

To make things easier, I improvise most scenes. I let the actors breathe life into the language and characters and see where it takes them. It’s fun and they can’t go sulking into their caravans because we don’t have them.

Benefits for the brood
On the topic of language, being a father in a bilingual family is challenging but great. With my two kids, we speak together in English and already I’m noticing how absolutely beneficial this is when they travel – they’re much more comfortable than other Danish kids their own age at speaking English.

Interestingly though, in the last few years, I’ve see a noticeable difference between younger generation Danes and the older generation. Maybe it’s the internet, but the younger generation has a much better grasp and, more so, they really want to speak other languages like English.

I chat to lots of new young filmmakers and they show me all these new film books they’re reading. I say: “You couldn’t find them in Danish?” and the response back is that they prefer them in English!

Passing through Fart Control
But languages are also funny. Some Danish words I truly get a kick from. The most obvious one is ‘fart’ (speed). When I’ve got visitors from outside Denmark, I like to pick them up from the airport and tell them to hold their cheeks in as we pass the ‘Fart Control’ signs on the road.

Then there is ‘slut’ (end) and the often seen ‘slutspurt’ (final sprint), which is not a special terms used in an Olympics for promiscuous women but the absolute final discount of a sale. Neither is a brystvorte (breast wart) a medical condition, it’s the world’s unsexist word for nipple. And let’s not forget ‘barber scum’. No, not delinquents hanging outside hairdressers, but shaving foam. I’m sure there are more!

But what about the use of bad language? I have tried for years to teach my wife to curse correctly in English. Bollox, shit, say it properly, for satans! Bollox is specifically rich and prolific in its versatility: you can be a stupid bollox, your phone can be bolloxed or you can drink too much and be bolloxed.

Finally, please note that I have not mentioned the internationally famous Danish word ‘hygge’ – because honestly it can be a bit of a bollox to explain what it really means!