Danish director goes deep in first American movie

A bundle of raw emotions ignite Susanne Bier’s “Things We Lost in the Fire,” starring Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry. For a while, you wonder if the tattered players will ever see the light of day.

They do. But not in the way most would think.

It was the depth of the script and its penchant to evoke compassion that initially attracted the Danish director to the project. After winning accolades for her work in the foreign films “Open Hearts” and “After the Wedding” — the latter was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film last year — the director says she wanted her first American outing to be memorable.

“I was really touched by it,” she adds, noting that she had read 250 scripts before “Things …” caught her eye. “I was already crying by the end of reading it. And that happens rarely. Mostly, it’s so boring to read scripts but I was curious to see whether the movies I did could work in English and reach a bigger audience.”

In the film, which opened Friday, Berry is stricken by the sudden murder of her husband (David Duchovny). Uncertain of how to move forward with her two young children, she finds an unlikely emotional ally in her husband’s best friend (Del Toro), a recovering drug addict.

The result delivers some of the year’s most rewarding scenes delivered between two actors.

“They are very deep persons,” Bier says of the headliners. “They are extremely honest — honest to a fault. I guess that was one of the reasons I wanted to work with them. They are totally uncompromised. And I think that it shows.”

But Bier may be heralded for the project as well. She has a distinct directing style that blends the use of hand-held cameras with a series of close-ups that occupy the frame longer than most traditional filmmakers might allow.

“The close-ups … I am kind of obsessed with them,” she says. “It becomes almost like an extra image … it’s not [an actor’s] eye any more, it’s like a landscape and therefore you always sense from this particular image how this person feels. You don’t sense the physical feature of the face, you sense the emotional. I think it’s a real important tool in order to paint a sense of what they are really feeling.”

Overall, Bier says her movie-making experience “has allowed me to deal with things that I want to — and don't want to — think about.”

“I think being Jewish, there’s this sort of notion of a potential catastrophe,” she adds. “It has always been prevalent and by confronting it in movies, I kind of deal with it.

She notes that it’s the very reason audiences want to see movies, too: “We want to see things, which we subconsciously or consciously are preoccupied with, but we don’t want to do it in a kind of heavy-handed way,” she says. “That’s why I wanted to do this [film], but I am also telling the audiences that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I think that’s very important for us.”

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