After her foray into Hollywood filmmaking with DreamWorks’ Things We Lost in the Fire, which boasted impeccable performances from Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro but was too dark to yield much box office, Denmark’s star director Susanne Bier returned home to build yet another organic, thoughtful movie with her long-time collaborator, Anders Thomas Jensen. Bier, who had the first of her two children a year after she graduated from film school, feels supported in Denmark. She and Jensen go off to a retreat where she paces and acts out scenes, and he writes them up. “We are both obsessed with moral issues,” she says. “We usually have one or two characters we are passionate about. How would we react in each case? Are we morally sound?”
The result is the stunning In a Better World, which was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, played well in Toronto and Sundance, and landed a Golden Globe win and Bier’s second Oscar nomination (her first was After the Wedding). As always, Bier deploys her usual roving hand-held cameras and natural light, shaping the narrative in the cutting room, steered by emotions, not linear storytelling. But she opens this movie up with sweeping cinematic vistas as well.
The story cross-cuts between two Danish families and an African refugee camp, where a doctor in the midst of a broken marriage at home flies in to help at a clinic. As played by strapping Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt (Everlasting Moments), he tries to do the right thing in a world where that is not always clear or possible. As always, Bier draws naturalistic performances from all her actors, including Danish actress Trine Dyrholm as his wife, Biers regular Ulrich Thomsen (Brothers) as a grief-wracked widower, and young actors Markus Rygaard and William Jøhnk Nielsen as friends who are battling bullies at school.
The film opens in New York and Los Angeles on April 1, 2011.
Part One: Sundance jury and Globes win; writing again with Anders Thomas Jensen; finding the movie’s shape, staying flexible through shooting and editing.
Part Two: Casting, exploring male power dynamics in Denmark and a Kenya refugee camp.
Part Three: What she learned from Hollywood from Things We Lost in the Fire; what’s next.
Part Four: Changing her shooting style.