Straight Outta Denmark

By Yabroff, Jennie | Newsweek, February 28, 2011 | Go to article overview

Straight Outta Denmark


Yabroff, Jennie, Newsweek


Byline: Jennie Yabroff

When Danish director Susanne Bier delivered her acceptance speech at this year's Golden Globe Awards, she left the audience speechless. Literally. Accepting her award for best foreign-language film from Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson, Bier nervously joked that her movie features "people who speak like they have potatoes shoved down their throats." Dead silence. After several awkward seconds, the director hastily wrapped up her speech.

Weeks later, Bier still sounds chagrined. "I got a bit paralyzed," she explains. "I'd very carefully written a speech, and I couldn't even read it. What was worse, I did not kiss Robert Pattinson, and now my daughter is never going to speak to me again."

In a way, the director's experience at the Golden Globes mirrors the contrasting perceptions of her at home and abroad. In Hollywood, she's considered a European artiste: reviewing her film, In a Better World, Variety punned, "In a better world, auds would line up for such quality fare; in this one -- [the] release won't travel far beyond arthouses Stateside." Yet in Europe, Bier is seen as a Hollywood crowd-pleaser, even though her only English-language film was 2007's Things We Lost in the Fire with Benicio del Toro and Halle Berry. "There's something obviously Hollywood about the way she presents her stories with their grand emotions," one critic sniffed in the magazine of the Danish Film Institute. Perhaps most telling, while In a Better World is an Oscar frontrunner for best foreign-language film, it wasn't nominated in the best-film category for Denmark's equivalent of the Academy Award, the Robert. The movie's executive producer theorized that the Robert's jury found Bier's movie "too commercial"; a box-office hit in Denmark, it sold more tickets there than Toy Story 3.

Paradoxically, Bier got her start as part of Scandinavia's Dogme group, which was formed in reaction to the "Hollywoodization" of Danish films. Led by director Lars von Trier, the movement eschewed props, costumes, artificial lighting, and music (although at least a few Hollywood stars, including Nicole Kidman, appeared in Dogme films). …

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