In Love Is All You Need, Susanne Bier tries her hand at romantic comedy, a genre the award-winning Danish director hasn’t tackled for a decade. It’s a decided change of pace. She is best known for dissections of dysfunctional families facing searing moral dilemmas in today’s globalized world.
In 2011 she won the best foreign film Oscar for In A Better World, about two fathers with troubled sons. Bier was also nominated for an Academy Award in the same category in 2007 for After the Wedding, set in part at a struggling orphanage in India run by a Dane.
Love Is All You Need is also about a wedding, but it takes place for the most part in sun-suffused Sorrento on the ritzy Amalfi Coast in southern Italy; very easy on the eyes. Bier, seeking authenticity and a buoyant visual atmosphere, insisted on shooting in one of the most scenic parts of Italy. “I insisted it be Italy, even though it is expensive to shoot there, because I felt there was an intangible charm that’s very specific that you can’t get anywhere else.”
She brought her usual production keys while relying for the most part on an Italian crew. She praised them for their expertise. “They were also stereotypical Italians, constantly flirting with and ogling the blondes in the cast,” she recalls.
Biers’ production heads were by and large collaborators from her previous films: Morten Søborg was director of photography; Pernille Bech Christensen and Morten Egholm did the editing; Signe Sejlund was the costume designer and Johan Söderqvist composed the score. New to the team was production designer Peter Grant, whose credits include The Life of Brian and Time Bandits.
The film stars Pierce Brosnan as Philip. He’s a no-nonsense Brit living in Copenhagen running a giant produce wholesaler. A widower, his son is set to marry the daughter of Ida, a woman who has had breast cancer and is on an uncertain road to recovery after chemotherapy. She is played by luminous Danish actress Trine Dyrholm. They first meet when she clumsily backs into his car in a parking structure at the airport as they both are rushing to catch the same flight to Italy for the pending nuptials. The wedding gathering, as is often the case in films, turns into a comic mix-it-up.
But as a romantic comedies go, the movie is hardly fluffy or predictable. This is a Susanne Bier film after all. So there are some big surprises in the plot and of course troubling undercurrents. Most prominent is Ida’s life-and-death struggle. But the movie never descends into darkness. “It a huge balancing act,” said Bier, who talked to Below the Line when she was in Los Angeles recently to promote the film’s opening in mid-May, along with Brosnan and Dyrholm.
“That’s the whole key to the movie, balancing the pain and fear and anxiety of Ida’s character with her sunny outlook and lack of self-pity – so the audience is allowed to giggle without losing emotional engagement,” Bier proclaimed.
Helping maintain the film’s equilibrium are the stars. “They not only are great actors, they are very compassionate and very generous in their performances, so you feel you can laugh with them, not at them, even when they are doing crazy things,” she observed.
Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen – who, as usual, came up with the story together while he did the screenplay – had a finished script around the time of the 2011 Oscars. She relayed it to Brosnan, hoping he would accept. “You have a story of a woman who has lost almost everything, so who do you want her to meet romantically? Her own James Bond,” she declared.
Brosnan, among other prominent roles, is probably best known for playing Bond in four of the films in the popular franchise. “At the time, I didn’t know that he had lost his wife to cancer in 1991,” said Bier. “He read the script and loved it because it was such a light film, making it easier to deal with the more painful element.” Bier’s mother also had breast cancer twice.
Dyrholm is one of Denmark’s most prominent stage and screen stars, with a career that began when she was 18. She has received the Bodil, the prestigious Danish Film Critic Association Award, five times, the only actor ever to have done so. And in a tie she shared last year’s best actress Robert Award, Denmark’s Oscar, for Love Is All You Need (released there in the fall of 2012), and made it a pair, getting a second as best supporting actress for her role in another film.
Søborg shot the movie with the digital RED camera. Given the film’s brilliantly colorful look, which takes maximum advantage of the setting, one might conclude it was lensed on film stock. “You can’t tell the difference much anymore. I do love what you can do with the RED. It looks beautiful,” said the director. “And if you don’t do huge budget films – and I always shoot lots of footage – digital is the way to go,” she added. The result she felt was “very naturalistic but not stylized. We were very consciously working with the colors of the dresses and the lemons,” which are a recurrent symbol.
The large Italian villa used for the “destination wedding” is the central location. “I wanted a house that looked as if nobody had lived there in 20 years and therefore wasn’t redecorated,” said Bier. “It also had to be in or near a lemon grove, because the lemon was such an important part of the story.”
DP Søborg and one of the producers were scouting the area and came upon the house, which was unfurnished and, indeed, had a lemon grove. Two siblings were the joint owners but had not been on speaking terms for years, so the house has sat empty instead of being sold. Brand’s job as production designer was primarily dressing the house and wedding along with the locations in Denmark.
In terms of hair and make-up, perhaps the most interesting detail involves Ida’s long blonde hair. It turns out to be a wig. She is bald because of her chemotherapy, and ironically, works as a hairdresser. The translation of the Danish title is The Bald Hairdresser. But that was changed for distribution here, because it was thought to be disconcerting and misleading for a romantic comedy. It wound up as Love Is All You Need, a word reversal, deliberate or not, of the Beatles anthem All You Need Is Love. (Apple is a notorious stickler on rights).
The shoot was spread over eight weeks, two in Denmark and eight in Italy. The budget totaled around $6 million. Sony Pictures Classics is distributing Love Is All You Need in the U.S.
Bier’s next film is Serena, now in postproduction. It takes place in Depression-era North Carolina and is based on a critically acclaimed novel by Ron Rash involving a timber baron and his infertile wife. Serena is already generating lots of advance buzz because it reteams moviedom’s hottest screen couple of the moment, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the stars of Silver Linings Playbook. “It was amazing to work with Brad and Jennifer,” Bier said, reluctant to comment further while she’s still finishing it up.
It is not Bier’s first all-English-language film. In 2007, she directed Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro in Things We Lost in the Fire. The film garnered some good reviews but was a disappointment at the box office. Already one of the world’s most acclaimed directors, Bier is sure to have a big Hollywood klieg light on her when Serena is released later this year.
Be the first to comment