Susanne Bier • Director
Fascinated by male frailty
by Annika Pham
After Open Hearts [+see also:
film profile],Brothers [+see also:
film profile] and After the Wedding [+see also:
interview: Sisse Graum Jørgensen
interview: Susanne Bier
film profile], Danish director Susanne Bier and her co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen have created a new gripping drama, In a Better World [+see also:
film profile], in which male characters are challenged in their beliefs and forced to take difficult decisions. The film opened wide on August 26 in Denmark to rave reviews in the national press. Bier spoke to Cineuropa.
Cineuropa: What inspired the idea for your new film, In a Better World?
Susanne Bier: I had discussions with Anders Thomas Jensen about Denmark being perceived as an idealistic and very harmonious society, while things are never that perfect in real life. We started thinking about a story where unpredictable events would have dramatic effects on people and disrupt this image of a blissful place in which to live. So the story of two young boys who become friends, but then one of them suddenly becomes violent, gradually started to develop. Usually we believe – or want to believe – that small boys are good and creatures of love, but in this case the 12-year-old boy becomes vicious, even evil because he is angry.
What would you say the film is really about?
The film focuses on the character of Mikael Persbrandt, who plays an idealistic doctor working on a humanitarian mission somewhere in a refugee camp in Africa. He wants to do the right thing but is being tested by events and we see how far this can go. His story interweaves with the story of the young boys. The doctor is a very interesting and intriguing character who has had to deal with his own scars in life but still dreams of a better world.
In After the Wedding, Mads Mikkelsen also played a humanitarian suddenly faced with a difficult choice to make in his life. You’re obviously drawn by these complex male characters, suddenly tested by fate and forced to make almost heroic decisions.
I think I just like real human beings, and their life problems are what make them interesting. In the film, Mikael Persbrandt is romantic, idealistic, but he is far from perfect. He is a true human being in all his frailty, with doubts and uncertainties. As a female director, I am driven by these male personalities. Actors often have a strong feminine side, and I like to try to find that in them, like a hollowness, a hidden treasure to bring to the open.
Did you have Ulrich Thomsen and Mikael Persbrandt in mind when you wrote the script with Jensen?
We don’t usually discuss actors in the early stages of scriptwriting. We want to fully concentrate on the story and the dramatization of the characters. We kind of second guess during the second and third draft and once we have the names, we re-write some parts of the story.
How was your first experience working with Mikael Persbrandt?
He is a truly skilled actor, very forceful. He has a strong animalistic side and it was amazing for me as a director to deal with it.
You had some problems last January with the Sudanese government, which accused the film of being anti-Islamic and depicting “non-existing conditions in Darfur”. How did you feel about this episode?
The film has nothing to do with Darfur at all. It was partly shot in Kenya, and the action is set somewhere in Africa, in no specific place. Plus the story itself has nothing to do with religion at all. It was a completely wrong accusation.
You are one of the most “bankable” filmmakers in Scandinavia and your films are seen around the world. Is this international recognition important to you?
Yes, it is very important. Filmmaking for me is not making some small avant-garde movie that no one will see. I enjoy connecting with an audience and I do think of the audience when I make a film.
You’re attached to a new comedy co-written with Jensen and produced by Zentropa, and to an Ingmar Bergman biopic to be produced by Swedish broadcaster SVT. Which one will be next?
Right now I’m promoting In a Better World. I haven’t quite decided yet what will come next.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.