COLOGNE (Hollywood Reporter) - In her films, Danish director Susanne Bier specializes in taking good, decent people and putting them through hell.
“In a Better World,” Denmark’s candidate for the 2011 foreign-language Oscar, is no exception. The film moves between a Sudanese refugee camp, where Danish doctor Anton tries to keep the peace, and Anton’s home in Denmark, where his marriage is on the rocks and his son is being bullied at school.
It marks her follow-up to the 2007 box office disappointment “Things We Lost in the Fire,” which was viewed as an Oscar magnet for Halle Berry.
YOU WENT TO THE U.S. TO MAKE YOUR ENGLISH-LANGUAGE DEBUT “THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE.” WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE MAKING A FILM IN THE U.S.? HOW DID IT COMPARE TO THE EUROPEAN SYSTEM?
It was a wonderful experience. But I think what I’m doing as a filmmaker is the same in U.S. or Europe. As a director you aim to create a scene that is alive. The director channels all the elements into one vision and it’s irrelevant where you are. And there are a few issues I have with the European tradition. The European auteur tradition has great advantages but distinct disadvantages as well. Look at the amount of European films made that are really boring. You have to ask if never questioning the director’s autonomy is all that healthy.
Another issue I have is why actors in European films have to look so ugly. Why is it a virtue that they should be unattractive? There is a tradition in Europe of indulging in misery and I’m not particularly fond of that.
“IN A BETTER WORLD” HAS SIMILARITIES WITH (HER 2006 FILM) “AFTER THE WEDDING.” AGAIN YOU ARE CONTRASTING LIFE IN THE THIRD WORLD WITH RICH WESTERN SOCIETY. WHAT INTERESTS YOU ABOUT THIS CONTRAST?
First of all I think I have an interest in showing that we are not all that different which is I think is important. And I have an interest in making it clear that the Third World is part of our world. We don’t live in a privileged secluded island. I’m not interested in making a topical, political movie but I am interested in making a film that engages people. In so many European films, the political topic is the main interest and I’ve always hated that. I don’t like topical films. I don’t like films that have all the answers ready. I personally like to be entertained and engaged and them make up my own mind.
VIOLENCE IS A MAJOR THEME IN THE FILM AND THE MAIN LINK BETWEEN THE TWO WORLDS IN DENMARK AND AFRICA. WAS THAT THERE FROM THE START?
It’s not just violence. Forgiveness and revenge are themes that link the two stories. In Danish the movie is called “Revenge” (Haevnen). Revenge is something we are all thinking about a lot at the moment or at least doing more openly than we have in a long time. It’s extremely timely, extremely relevant and extremely frightening. We are all brought up to think revenge is a bad thing but it is something that is very understandable. We all have an instinctive desire to restore justice. The film could also be called Forgiveness but that’s a pretty boring title.
THE FILM HAS GONE THROUGH A COUPLE OF ENGLISH TITLES — “CIVILIZATION” AND NOW “IN A BETTER WORLD.”
Yes and I like both of them. “Civilization” was the original Danish title of the film but it’s a hard word to pronounce in Danish so we decided to change the name. “In A Better World” is also a relevant title because the film is also about how extremely difficult it is in the modern world to be a decent human being. That’s something most of us struggle with to a lesser or greater degree.
ANTON, THE DOCTOR, IS A PROTOTYPE ‘DECENT HUMAN BEING.’ BUT IN THE WAR ZONE IN SUDAN OR EVEN AT HOME, HIS PACIFISM DOESN’T SEEM TO HELP.
It does help. I just think it’s not that simple. I actually think he’s right. His marriage isn’t going all that great — because he has made a mistake. He’s a real human creature. He has flaws. I think a real idealist struggling in the real world is interesting.