Critics have often praised the films of Susanne Bier as if their voyeur-like intimacy and organic emotions were secret pleasures. But the Danish helmer, the latest star to emerge from the Dogma movement, is unlikely to be flying under the radar for too much longer.
In the wake of her Oscar-nominated “After the Wedding,” which the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern called a “thrilling — and harrowing, and beautiful — celebration of the unpredictability of life,” producer Sam Mendes brought her in to direct her first English-language feature, “Things We Lost in the Fire.”
On her Danish films, Bier collaborates closely with co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (“We’re so much in sync with our ideas that it’s pure pleasure”), but on the $17 million DreamWorks’ drama, Bier was on her own, a stranger in a strange land.
Bier cast Halle Berry as a widow who finds unexpected solace from her husband’s oldest friend, a drug addict played by Benicio Del Toro. “She suffers a tremendous loss and seeks help in the most unlikely of human beings,” says Bier. “It’s about finding love where you least expect it.”
As a foreigner, Bier leaned on her cast and crew to keep the film authentic. “I spent more time making sure I got it right,” she says. “I never sleep while I’m shooting. I’m constantly questioning. Did I get that truthful moment?”
Despite a bigger budget, Bier did not change her style. She used roving hand-held cameras and natural light, and asked Berry not to wear makeup or work out too much. In the cutting room, Bier shaped the narrative with emotions, not linear storytelling.
“It’s not done to be sophisticated,” she says. “It’s done totally to engage. It has to be honest, it has to be real. Sometimes extreme things are more real than less extreme; sometimes funny things are more painful and real than apparently sad things.”
Vocation: “I’m pursuing an idea relentlessly and in order to do that you suck out all the creativity you’re being offered from everybody involved. You have to listen and you have to choose.”
Recent breakthrough: A foreign-language Oscar nom for “After the Wedding” and her first English-language pic “Things We Lost in the Fire.”
Role model: None.
Career mantra: “Once you don’t live a real life, it’s very hard to describe the real lives of other people. Moviemaking is about the details.”
What’s next: Most likely, she’ll direct a pre-World War II European period drama, in English and German, written with Thomas Jensen.