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Interview with the Director
by Mike Goodridge

After a string of intense dramas, Susanne Bier turns to comedy in Love Is All You Need, set in sunny Sorrento, Italy, and with the romantic pairing up of Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm. Mike Goodridge talks to the director about the nerve-wracking joy of winning an Oscar, her collaboration with writer Anders Thomas Jensen and how to balance uncomfortable subject matter with all the charms of a rom-com.

"I think I am very romantic," laughs Susanne Bier. "I think there has always been a contradiction between what people expected from me as a director and who I was. And I guess with this film there is less of a difference between who I am and what the movie is like." The film is "Love Is All You Need", a delicious romantic comedy set over a wedding weekend in Sorrento where a host of characters fall in and out of love. Bathed in sunshine, lemon groves and beautiful sunsets, it's Bier's first romantic comedy since 1999 when she broke Danish box office records with "The One and Only". Since then, she has become internationally acclaimed for a string of powerfully intense dramas revolving around moral dilemmas kicking off with her Dogme film "Open Hearts", followed by "Brothers", "After the Wedding", for which she was Oscar nominated, the US-set "Things We Lost in the Fire" and "In a Better World" for which she won the Oscar in 2011. And, as you would expect from a filmmaker with those extraordinary films under her belt, this is no bland romantic comedy with two-dimensional characters. She and her frequent writing collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen build all their work around authentic characters and in this case they have come up with Ida, a sunny, positive woman getting over cancer and a philandering husband, and Philip, a slick British businessman working in Copenhagen who has never been able to recover from his wife's death many years before. Most of the film takes place at Philip's property in Sorrento where his son is marrying her daughter.

"The exciting thing about a romantic comedy is not who's going to find each other but the journey of how they will get together," Bier explains. "We have done a number of dramas where we dealt with the notion of "what if." And with this film we had this woman in a very unhappy and lonely situation and we wanted to bring her back to a joyful state." "But," she cautions, "you can't be heavy handed in a romantic comedy. You have to be emotionally engaging. So you have a character for whom you feel sorry but this person has to have a lot of charm and unpredictability." For the part of Ida, Bier cast veteran Trine Dyrholm who played one of the key dramatic parts in "In a Better World". "I think it was fun for her because she has been playing characters on the dark side for a while," says Bier, "and at the beginning I think she was afraid of playing it so light. Ida is someone who maintains high spirits even when things are really awful. I would say she is slightly inspired by my mother who also had cancer but always managed to see the positive side of things. We wanted the character to have traces of that: it's intrinsic to who she is that she would at all times choose the positive way."

For Dyrholm, it was a challenging balancing act to maintain that sunny nature without being irritating either to those around her or the audience. "You must never sense that this woman is stupid," says Bier, "because she is not." Meanwhile as Philip, Bier cast the legendary Pierce Brosnan, who gives one of his most vulnerable performances to date. Bier always wanted the character to be a foreigner living in Denmark to further heighten his isolation. "For this character to be lonely, almost alienated in Copenhagen, it had to be someone who was clearly a foreigner." "He is a great actor," says Bier about Brosnan. "He completely understood what the film was about. I think there was a part of him that wanted to do something a little more fragile."

Including cancer in the story is a risk for any light endeavor, but Bier made a determined effort not to let it overwhelm the film's central charm. "I am not sure I would want to see a film about cancer and I wouldn't want to make a drama about cancer," she explains. "But we wanted to treat it in a way that was potentially painful but not disturbing. The intriguing thing was to deal with an uncomfortable subject matter in a charming way. It's just part of the story."

If the film sounds too heavy, it isn't. Bier and Jensen readily embraced romantic comedy conventions in the script. Ida and Philip start out with a frosty relationship when she backs into his car at Copenhagen Airport, but the frost melts over the course of the weekend. Meanwhile various supporting characters fulfill certain types: Paprika Steen plays Brosnan's stuck-up,vitriolic sister-in-law who is determined to snare him for herself, Kim Bodnia is Dyrholm's obtuse husband who carelessly brings along his mistress to the wedding, and Christiane Shaumburg-Müller is the gauche sex bomb mistress who puts her foot in her mouth at every turn. "Good taste is the worst hindrance to moviemaking so you have to be courageous and take on cliches and conventions," says Bier. "If you are terrified about them, you could lose the engagement of the audience. It's about engaging with them. We all live according to clichés. The important thing is to make sure the characters are real flesh-and blood human beings and to really care for them. You can't avoid conventions; you have to make it real." She says that she likes the comedies of Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Notting Hill") for this very reason: despite the fairytale English settings, the characters are authentic. "I think he's a genius," she says. "He reinvented the romantic comedy by being pretty real."

Bier is no pushover, famously working intensively with her actors in her efforts to get the best from every scene. And that was no different on "Love Is All You Need". "It was just as demanding as with a drama," she says. "Make no mistake, it's as difficult making a light movie as it is making a more heavy drama. We did have a lot of fun making it, but the laughter didn't necessarily go hand in hand with the material." Shooting in glorious Sorrento of course was a bonus for everyone involved in the film. Cinematographer Morten Soborg and producer Vibeke Windelov found the house where the wedding takes place when they went scouting for locations early on in the process. It was perfect for the film -- unfurnished, empty and beside a lemon grove. Bier and Jensen had often retreated to the Amalfi coast to write some of their earlier films, so for them it was a natural spot to set a film. "We had a key Danish crew but also a big Italian crew," she recalls. "And Italian catering. It was pretty uncomplicated actually because the movie is also about people visiting Italy, so it wasn't as if we were pretending we were Italians." Explaining that she is resolutely not a "careerist", Bier returns to why she felt the need to get romantic with this latest film. "You aren't really allowed to be overtly romantic today. Even in the good romantic comedies there's always an element of cynicism. I wanted to make one which is not cynical but which I would still like to see. That meant it had to have some real content. There had to be some edges to it. But most importantly," says Bier, "I didn't want it to be cynical."


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