Susanne Bier: The '00s
Once in a Lifetime
Brothers (July 14/05)
Though she was born and raised in Denmark, Brothers marks Connie Nielsen's first Dutch film (the actress speaks the language fluently, of course, in addition to English, French, Swedish, German, and Italian). The film casts Nielsen as Sarah, a mother of two who is happily married to Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) - until he apparently perishes in a combat-related incident. Sarah finds herself leaning more and more on Michael's younger brother, Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), for support; meanwhile, it turns out that Michael's still alive and being held captive as a prisoner-of-war. His inevitable return is fraught with conflict, primarily due to his increasing suspicion that something happened between Sarah and Jannik during his absence. Brothers relies mostly on the talent of the leads to propel the story forward, which undeniably works thanks to Nielsen, Thomsen, and Kaas' exceptionally strong performances. The somewhat predictable third act doesn't come off as badly as one might think, as screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen offers up a resolution that is both unexpected and fitting. Though Brothers never quite makes the emotional impact it's clearly going for, the story is intriguing enough and the performances are compelling enough to keep the viewer engaged throughout.
After the Wedding
Things We Lost in the Fire (November 14/07)
Things We Lost in the Fire marks Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's English-language debut, and it's clear almost immediately that she's managed to retain her distinctively low-key, thoroughly intimate sensibilities during the transition. The film - written by Allan Loeb - follows two damaged characters (Halle Berry's Audrey and Benicio Del Toro's Jerry) as they forge a tentative friendship following the sudden death of Audrey's husband (and Jerry's childhood friend) Steven (David Duchovny). Anchored by Del Toro's absolutely riveting performance, Things We Lost in the Fire is a slow-moving yet intriguing effort that ultimately suffers from an overlong running time - as there are a surfeit of scenes that simply go on much longer than necessary. The uneven vibe that ensues plays a substantial role in the movie's lack of an emotional impact; unlike its similarly-themed brethren (ie 21 Grams), Things We Lost in the Fire never entirely comes off as the searing, hard-to-watch drama it's presumably supposed to be.