At the Toronto Film Festival you see a lot of heavy movies really early in the morning. Love is All You Need was a most welcome respite from the intensity that was around at the festival. Academy Award winning director Susanne Bier operating at the top of her game goes in a completely different direction with this lush (it takes place in Italy) and romantic piece that stars Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm as people from two different worlds who happen to be the parents of a couple about to get married in a villa in Italy. The movie is so beautifully shot that it made my pine for the blue skies of Italy. The story is way more complex than a typical romantic comedy but it is also very accessible and because of Pierce Brosnan (who thankfully does not sing) this film will play even wider in the English speaking world. This was one of the films I really liked at the festival.
I sat down with director Susanne Bier to talk about the film in Toronto.
Women and Hollywood: I went to the press screening yesterday morning. And it was packed and it was 9:00 in the morning. Everyone was crying. And I was just like, well at a Susanne Bier movie you don’t usually cry in that way. I remember when I interviewed you last time you said you wanted to make something a more romantic and lighter, so this is clearly that film. Please talk about kind of the genesis of the story for this.
Susanne Bier: Anders Thomas Jensen and I had talked about making a movie which addressed the cancer issue, and we didn’t want to make it heavy-handed. We wanted to do something which had a lot of hope in it. And then for some reason we came up with a romantic comedy. We wanted to deal with someone who feels that she’s lost everything and with a heroine who you really long for to come out at the other end of the movie with having gained something. I kind of get bored if they’re all 25 and have great cars and are all great looking. I wanted something that had a little bit more at stake. And also we wanted to address the different generations.
WaH: The cancer it was very prevalent but also not dominating.
SB: That’s exactly how we wanted it. It had to be real. It had to be something where you kind of understand that it’s a real anxiety for her and she’s not – but it shouldn’t be the main point. It’s not a movie about cancer. It’s a movie about love, but cancer is for most of us, in many cases, very much part of our life.
WaH: Most of your films have had Danish actors, am I correct?
SB: Swedish and Danish.
WaH: So with Pierce Brosnan I knew that he would have to speak English for most of the movie. So what was it like integrating the two languages? It felt so natural.
SB: Well that’s the way it is. A lot of people who live in Denmark will understand Danish but not necessarily speak it. Also the reason we wanted that is because there’s also an element of alienation in there. There’s also an element of how you get it but you can’t convey your own voice in the same language.
WaH: And that’s what happened with the Patrick he was alienated from himself.
SB: Yes. Exactly. And it kind of terrified him.
WaH: The fear in him was palpable. The movie was so beautiful to watch the movie and Pierce Brosnan, I don’t think he has looked this good in a very long time. It looked like he has a certain freedom now.
SB: He was very free and I think he felt really at ease. Also the whole thing of him having the history of losing his first wife to cancer this was kind of in a way an important movie for him to make because it was light but still dealt with it. I really wanted him to play the part because I thought it was right. And then before we were going to talk on the phone I read up on him and I realized that his first wife had died of cancer. And I was kind of worried that it would be a problem for him. But I was also kind of thinking maybe it was the right time for him and I was very fortunate that it was the case.
WaH: Talk about Trine Dyrholm. She was the wife in A Better World. And in this movie she’s a hairdresser. There are a lot of class differences in the film.
SB: There’s clearly class difference which is also kind of fun. She’s got a certain innocence which hasn’t really been used properly in any other part, but I’ve kind of been dying to see that innocence in it’s full shape. I thought she would be great in that part. Most of her parts had been much darker and I thought it would kind of fun having this really insisting that this person being very, very positive. The character is slightly built on my mother. My mother has had breast cancer twice. And my mother has always been this very positive human being, a glass half full type. Like when she was in treatment and feeling really bad, she would always talk about some nurse that was particularly nice to her.
WaH: Did you do something to her eyes? Because I kept staring at her eyes which are like a deer in the headlights.
SB: She’s got huge eyes. Like a clown.
WaH: You've been writing with Anders Thomas Jensen for some time now. Do you work together in the same way?
SB: Yeah, we do work in the same way. We’re very uncomplicated with our relationship. I don’t know, it’s a natural understanding and exchange of ideas. Like I will say something and he will say something else and we might argue about it but we fundamentally understand each other very well.
WaH: Talk about the – any challenges you found in making this film?
SB: The main challenge was getting the balance between comedy and sadness right. Because it’s such a fine balance. When we were editing whenever the weight slipped onto one side you kind of lost the momentum of the movie. It’s a movie which is so unashamedly romantic. It really is a movie that kind of says “Yes, we do believe in love. We do. And we don’t do it with any kind of cynicism.” And I thought that was a bit scary. It's actually a little bit scary at this point in time to say yes, that’s what we believe.
WaH: I wrote a lot about the fact that the Cannes Film Festival had no women in competition this year and people kept asking which women should have been included and I knew your film was done and so I said your name.
SB: But it wasn’t finished.
WaH: But even if it wasn't finished your name should be in that conversation no matter what.
SB: Thank you, that’s very nice of you.
WaH: You’ve earned the right to be in those conversations. This is your first film since you won the Oscar and it is much lighter kind of film. Talk about the post Oscar expectations..
SB: Here’s the thing. You win an Oscar and the movie that comes after that is always going to be compared. So you can do a drama and it’s gonna be compared. And for a long time I wanted to do something which was slightly lighter. So here we go.
WaH: Do you feel this is your most commercial film?
SB: Well it has certainly opened huge in Denmark. The numbers are amazing. It might be, I don’t know. It’s not a conscious choice to make a commercial film. It’s a conscious choice to make a overtly romantic film and it’s a conscious choice to address the cancer issue. But if that’s gonna make a huge commercial film I’m just really honored and happy about that.
WaH: So I always ask people any advice you have for people who are trying to make a movie.
SB: Have courage, just get into it. And don’t think too much. Don’t make your life too complicated.
WaH: Are you going back to the tough stuff next time? For your next film?
SB: Yes. [Bier just finished shooting Serena with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.]
WaH: There are not a lot of women who have lengthy bodies of work and you have a substantive body of work and that's so impressive.
SB: That’s also probably why I’m less worried about it because you have to do things, otherwise it gets boring. You have to do different things.