LOS ANGELES (Reuters)- When Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier arrived in Hollywood some four years ago to direct her first big U.S. film, she was “excited and hopeful” it would give her career an international boost.
But her drama “Things We Lost in the Fire,” starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro, flopped at box offices and Bier, whose previous Danish film “After the Wedding” earned an Oscar nomination for foreign language film, soon returned home.
Now, Bier is back in Hollywood and back at the Oscars, the world’s top movie awards that will be given out on February 27, with her most recent film drama “In A Better World.” But unlike “Things We Lost,” her new movie has built a strong fan base and its tale of a young boy and the friend who protects him from bullying is more in keeping with who she is, as a filmmaker.
“Back home and in the rest of Europe, I’m seen as this very mainstream filmmaker, while over here, they see me as this art-house type,” Bier said.
“In A Better World” will compete for the Oscar against Mexico drama “Biutiful,” starring Javier Bardem, Canadian film “Incendies,” Greek entry “Dogtooth” and “Outside the Law” (“Hors-la-loi”) from Algeria.
Oscar pundits think “Biutiful,” which is directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Bier’s “In A Better World” have the upper hand. In a similar match-up at January’s Golden Globe Awards, it was Bier who walked away with the statue.
“It’s a very big deal,” Bier said of the Oscar nomination and ceremony. “It’s like the World Cup — everyone watches.”
Her movie, which lands in theaters in major U.S. cities on April 1, revolves around the friendship between two young boys, one of whom is bullied at school.
He befriends a new kid in their small coastal town in which they live, and the new boy beats up the bully.
After witnessing his new friend’s pacifist father also get routed by a loutish adult, the new boy is bent on revenge and he builds a bomb with potentially tragic results.
“I wanted to explore the relationships between parents and children and fragility of the idyllic Danish society,” Bier said. “It’s so easy for things to spin out of control, for violence to suddenly erupt, and it’s so hard for people to act like decent human beings sometimes.
“I wanted to explore all those dark themes. But at the same time, I’m an optimist. It doesn’t end so badly.”
“In A Better World” marks Bier’s fifth collaboration with writer Anders Thomas Jensen, who like Bier came out of the influential avant-garde “Dogme” movement championed by another Danish director, Lars von Trier.
In 1995, von Trier and his group issued their ‘Dogme 95’ set of rules for filmmaking that included no flashbacks, use of handheld cameras, natural lighting and everything shot on location with no props, no sets and no added music.
“In A Better World” has some Dogme elements. There are no flashbacks. It uses real locations, and handheld cameras for the most part, but Bier is quick to add she used artificial lighting and music throughout. She called it “sort of hybrid.”
“I just couldn’t work like that, although I tried,” she said about Dogme. “It was too hard and limiting for me. But it was very educational, and I feel like I went to school and now I apply all those lessons to my films whenever I need to.”
And with a possible Oscar waiting, it would seem that her “hybrid” blend of filmmaking is working pretty well.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte