Susanne Bier

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Susanne Bier
Susanne Bier 2013 (cropped).jpg
Bier in 2013
Born (1960-04-15) 15 April 1960 (age 58)
Nationality Danish
Alma mater Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design,
Architectural Association in London, [1]
National Film School of Denmark
OccupationDirector, writer, producer
Years active1991–present
Spouse(s) Philip Zandén (1995–?; divorced)
Jesper Winge Leisner (?-present)

Susanne Bier (Danish:  [susanə ˈbiɐ̯ˀ] ; born 15 April 1960) is a Danish film director. She is best known for her feature films Brothers , After the Wedding, In a Better World and Bird Box , and the TV miniseries The Night Manager .

<i>Brothers</i> (2004 film) 2004 Danish drama film by Susanne Bier

Brothers is a 2004 Danish psychological thriller war film directed by Susanne Bier and written by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen. It stars Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Connie Nielsen and Ulrich Thomsen.

<i>After the Wedding</i> 2006 film directed by Susanne Bier

After the Wedding is a 2006 Danish drama directed by Susanne Bier, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Sidse Babett Knudsen. The film was a critical and popular success and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but lost out to The Lives of Others.

<i>In a Better World</i> 2010 film by Susanne Bier

In a Better World is a 2010 Danish drama thriller film written by Anders Thomas Jensen and directed by Susanne Bier. The film stars Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, and Ulrich Thomsen in a story which takes place in small-town Denmark and a refugee camp in Africa.


Early life and education

Susanne Bier was born to a Jewish family in Copenhagen, Denmark on 15 April 1960. The family of her father, Rudolf Salomon Baer (born 1930), emigrated from Germany to Denmark in 1933 after Hitler's rise to power. The family of her mother, Heni (née Jonas; born 1936), emigrated to Denmark from Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, to escape rising anti-semitism. In 1943, the two families fled from Denmark to Sweden, together with most Danish Jews, to escape the deportation to the Nazi death camps. Three years after the end of World War II, they returned to Denmark. The effects of the Holocaust caused Bier's parents to instill the strong moral values and principles into their children. Later, the importance of human resilience and dignity would be a recurring theme in her films. [2]

Rescue of the Danish Jews

The rescue of the Danish Jews occurred during Nazi Germany's occupation of Denmark during World War II. On October 1, 1943, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered Danish Jews to be arrested and deported. Despite great personal risk, the Danish resistance movement, with the assistance of many Danish citizens, managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark's 7,800 Jews, plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden.

During her schooling, she went to Niels Steensens Gymnasium. In interviews for the media as an adult, Bier describes herself as lacking in social skills as a child, who liked to play football with boys and preferred to read books to interacting with others. After high school, citing a desire to reconnect with her Jewish roots, she studied art at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Later she would study architecture at the Architectural Association in London before finally returning to film and graduating from the National Film School of Denmark in 1987. [3] De Saliges (1987), Bier's graduation film, won first prize at the Munich film school festival and was subsequently distributed by Channel Four. [4]

Gymnasium (school) type of school providing advanced secondary education in Europe

A gymnasium is a type of school with a strong emphasis on academic learning, and providing advanced secondary education in some parts of Europe comparable to British grammar schools, sixth form colleges and US preparatory high schools. In its current meaning, it usually refers to secondary schools focused on preparing students to enter a university for advanced academic study. Before the 20th century, the system of gymnasiums was a widespread feature of educational system throughout many countries of central, north, eastern, and south Europe.

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design art school

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is an academic college of design and art located in Jerusalem, Israel. Established in 1906 by Jewish painter and sculptor Boris Schatz, Bezalel is Israel's oldest institution of higher education. It is named for the Biblical figure Bezalel, son of Uri, who was appointed by Moses to oversee the design and construction of the Tabernacle. The art created by Bezalel's students and professors in the early 1900s is considered the springboard for Israeli visual arts in the 20th century.

National Film School of Denmark film school

The National Film School of Denmark is an independent institution under the Danish Ministry of Cultural Affairs. It was established in 1966 and is based on Holmen in the harbour of Copenhagen.


After directing music videos, commercials and the feature films Freud Flytter Hjemmefra (Freud's Leaving Home, 1990), Det Bli'r i Familien (Family Matters, 1993), Pensionat Oscar (Like it Was Never Before, 1995) and Sekten (Credo, 1997), Bier made a breakthrough in her home country of Denmark with the film The One and Only in 1999. A romantic comedy about the fragility of life, the film won a clutch of Danish Film Academy awards and established Bier's relationship with actress Paprika Steen. The film remains one of the most successful domestic films ever released in Denmark.

<i>The One and Only</i> (1999 film) 1999 film by Susanne Bier

The One and Only is a 1999 Danish romantic comedy film directed by Susanne Bier. The film starred Sidse Babett Knudsen, Niels Olsen, Rafael Edholm, and Paprika Steen in story about two unfaithful married couples faced with becoming first-time parents. The film was considered to mark a modern transition in Danish romantic comedies, and became the third biggest box-office success of the 1990s in Denmark. The film earned both the Robert Award and Bodil Award as the Best Film of 1999.

A sidestep from the easy going charm of Livet är en schlager (Once in a Lifetime, 2000), Elsker dig for evigt ( Open Hearts , 2002) brought Bier's work to much wider international attention and acclaim. Acutely observed and beautifully written by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen, the film is a perceptive and painful exploration of broken lives and interconnected tragedies. Made under Dogme 95 regulations, the film also marked a move towards a more minimalist aesthetic.

<i>Open Hearts</i> 2002 film by Susanne Bier

Open Hearts, is a 2002 Danish drama film directed by Susanne Bier using the minimalist filmmaking techniques of the Dogme 95 manifesto. It stars Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Sonja Richter and Paprika Steen. Also referred to as Dogme #28, Open Hearts relates the story of two couples whose lives are traumatized by a car crash and adultery. Joachim, a young man, is made a tetraplegic and hospitalized indefinitely by a car crash after being hit by Marie. Marie's husband Niels is a doctor at the hospital, and he falls for Joachim's fiancee Cecilie, and they have an affair. Niels then leaves his wife, teenage daughter and two young boys for Cecilie, who abandons Joachim.

Dogme 95 was a filmmaking movement started in 1995 by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who created the "Dogme 95 Manifesto" and the "Vows of Chastity". These were rules to create filmmaking based on the traditional values of story, acting, and theme, and excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology. It was an attempt to take back power for the director as artist, as opposed to the studio. They were later joined by fellow Danish directors Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, forming the Dogme 95 Collective or the Dogme Brethren. Dogme is the Danish word for dogma.

Since the completion of Open Hearts, Bier's reputation has continued to ascend with the harrowing Brødre ( Brothers , 2004) and the emotionally engaging Efter Brylluppet ( After the Wedding , 2006), which was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 2007 Academy Awards. After her first American film, Things We Lost in the Fire (2008) starring Benicio del Toro and Halle Berry, Bier went on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film for In a Better World (2010). [5]

<i>Things We Lost in the Fire</i> (film) 2007 film by Susanne Bier

Things We Lost in the Fire is a 2007 drama film directed by Susanne Bier, written by Allan Loeb, and starring Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro. The film was released in the United States and Canada on October 19, 2007 and in the United Kingdom on February 1, 2008.

In 2012, she returned to romantic comedy with local Danish smash-hit Den skaldede frisør ( Love is All You Need ) (2012) starring Trine Dyrholm and Pierce Brosnan. And in 2014, she directed her second American feature, dark romantic drama Serena starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, and shortly after followed up with Danish drama A Second Chance starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Maria Bonnevie.

Also a maker of shorts, music videos and commercials, Bier's films typically meditate on pain, tragedy, and atonement.

In 2013 she was a member of the jury at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival. [6]


Freud's Leaving Home

After graduation, Bier was invited to Sweden to direct Freud's Leaving Home , which was critically acclaimed by film critics. The film follows a girl, Freud, from Sweden who comes from a Jewish family, and it became the first feature film in Sweden to depict Swedish-Jewish culture. With its heavily Jewish focus, the film "addresses the Jewish experience to an extent that is in rare in Scandinavian cinema". [7] The film won ten awards and was nominated for an additional three.

Family Matters

Her next film Family Matters continued exploration of complex, tabooed family relations begun in Freud's Leaving Home , including an incestuous relationship between brother and sister. [8]

The One and Only

Bier returned to taboo subjects with the film The One and Only in 1999. The film is a Danish romantic comedy starring Sidse Babett Knudsen, Niels Olsen, Rafael Edholm, and Paprika Steen in a story about two unfaithful married couples faced with becoming first-time parents. The film was considered to mark a modern transition in Danish romantic comedies, [8] The film earned both the Robert Award and Bodil Award as the Best Film of 1999.


Open Hearts

Following the influence of Dogme 95 manifesto, Bier directed the film Open Hearts in 2002. Open Hearts tells the story of two couples whose lives are traumatized by a car crash and adultery.

Open Hearts received a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes movie review website. [9] Susanne Bier received the International Critics Award at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival "for the fact that it proves that Dogma has come of age and matured into a potent cinematic language that skillfully captures the freeing of real emotions that extreme trauma creates within the lives of the characters in her film." [10] The film won both the Bodil and Robert awards for Best Danish Film in 2003.


In Bier's next film we follow the character of Michael who has a dream life, a promising military career, a beautiful wife and two beautiful girls. His younger brother, Jannik is a little thug, an outlaw. When Michael has to go to Afghanistan for a UN mission, the relationship between the two brothers is tense. During his trip, Michael is missing, presumed dead. Sarah is supported by Jannik who, against all odds, takes care of the family. Soon, Sarah and Jannik get closer and become lovers. The film tackles the theme of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the psychological aftermath of prisoners of war.The plot shows inspiration from Homer's Odyssey . It won several awards, including the audience award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival UCMF Movie Music Award. An opera based on the story of the film by Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason was premiered in Aarhus on 16 August 2017. It was commissioned by Den Jyske Opera. Kerstin Perski wrote the libretto and the director was Kasper Holten. To celebrate Aarhus as the European capital of culture 2017 three stage works were produced; a musical, dance and an opera all based on films by Bier were commissioned and performed in Musikhuset.

After the Wedding

Bier's next film tells the story of Jacob Petersen who manages an Indian orphanage. With a small staff, he works as hard as he can to keep the orphanage afloat and is personally invested in the young charges - in particular, Pramod, a young boy Jacob has cared for since the boy's birth. The film was a critical and popular success and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Time magazine's Richard Schickel named the film one of the Top 10 Movies of 2007, ranking it at #4, calling it a "dark, richly mounted film". While Schickel saw the film as possibly "old-fashioned stylistically, and rather manipulative in its plotting", he also saw "something deeply satisfying in the way it works out the fates of its troubled, yet believable characters." [11]

Things We Lost in the Fire

In this film we follow the character of Audrey who has been married for eleven years with Brian and leads a well-to-do life, but suddenly her husband dies after trying to defend a woman from an assault. Left alone with two children, Audrey has to face the terrible pain of loss, so she decides to welcome Jerry, her friend's friend, with problems of drug addiction. The two will establish a relationship that will force them to unite their pains, helping each other to make a change in their lives, the difficult search for happiness.

Critics gave the film generally favorable reviews. As of 29 January 2008 on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 64% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 117 reviews. [12] On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 63 out of 100, based on 30 reviews. [13] The two leads received praise for their performances, particularly Benicio Del Toro as he received immense acclaim for his portrayal of Jerry, considered one of his best roles to date.


In a Better World

In a Better World (Danish : Hævnen, "the revenge") is a 2010 Danish drama thriller film written by Anders Thomas Jensen and directed by Susanne Bier. The film stars Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, and Ulrich Thomsen in a story which takes place in small-town Denmark and a refugee camp in Africa.

A Danish majority production with co-producers in Sweden, In a Better World won the 2011 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film as well as the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. [14]

Director Susanne Bier said: "Our experiment in this film is about looking at how little it really takes before a child – or an adult – thinks something is deeply unjust. It really doesn't take much, and I find that profoundly interesting. And scary." [15]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 77% out of 114 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with the site consensus stating that "In a Better World is a sumptuous melodrama that tackles some rather difficult existential and human themes." [16] Critical aggregator Metacritic gave the film a Metascore of 65, indicating "generally favorable reviews." [17]

Kim Skotte called the film a "powerful and captivating drama" in Politiken . Out of the four collaborations between Jensen and Bier, he considered In a Better World to be the one most similar to Jensen's solo films and compared the combination of biblical themes and high entertainment value to Jensen's 2005 film Adam's Apples . [18] Peter Nielsen of Dagbladet Information called In a Better World "in all ways a successful film", and although there "is no doubt that Susanne Bier can tell a good story", he was not entirely convinced: "She can seduce, and she can push the completely correct emotional buttons, so that mothers' as well as fathers' hearts are struck, but she doesn't earnestly drill her probe into the meat." [18]

Love Is All You Need

In 2012, Bier directed Love Is All You Need (Den skaldede frisør), Lit.: The Bald Hairdresser) a 2012 Danish romantic comedy film starring Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm.

In 2013, Love Is All You Need was selected as best comedy film at the 26th European Film Awards. [19]


Bier directed Serena is a 2014 American–French drama film based on the 2008 novel of the same name by American author Ron Rash. [20] The film stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as newlyweds running a timber business in 1930s North Carolina.

Serena has received negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 16% based on 106 reviews with an average rating of 4.3/10. The website's critical consensus states "Serena unites an impressive array of talent on either side of the cameras – then leaves viewers to wonder how it all went so wrong." [21] On Metacritic the film has a score of 36 out of 100 based on reviews from 29 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". [22]

A Second Chance

In 2014, Bier directed A Second Chance (Danish : En chance til), a Danish thriller film. The film stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen, Maria Bonnevie, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Lykke May Andersen. It was screened in the Special Presentations section of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. [23] [24]

The Night Manager (TV series)

Taking a break from film, Bier directed The Night Manager, a British television serial starring Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, David Harewood, Tom Hollander, and Elizabeth Debicki. It is based on the 1993 novel of the same name by John le Carré and adapted to the present day by David Farr. [25] [26] [27] The six-part series began broadcasting on BBC One on 21 February 2016. In the United States, it began on 19 April 2016 on AMC. It has been sold internationally to over 180 countries, and a second series has been commissioned by the BBC and AMC. [28] Scripting duties for the second series will be handled by Matthew Orton, Charles Cumming, Namsi Khan and Francesca Gardiner. [29]

The first series of The Night Manager was nominated for 36 awards and won 11, including two Emmy Awards for director Susanne Bier and music composer Victor Reyes [30] and three Golden Globes for Best Performance to Tom Hiddleston, Best Performance for an Actress in a Supporting Role to Olivia Colman, and Best Performance for a Supporting Actor for Hugh Laurie.

The series received widespread critical acclaim, with The Sun calling it "one of the greatest series of all time". [31]

Adam Sisman, le Carré's biographer, wrote in UK daily newspaper The Daily Telegraph , "It is more than 20 years since the novel was published, and in that time two film companies have tried and failed to adapt it, concluding that it was impossible to compress into two hours. But this six-hour television adaptation is long enough to give the novel its due." He added, "And though Hugh Laurie may seem a surprising choice to play 'the worst man in the world', he dominates the screen as a horribly convincing villain. Alert viewers may spot a familiar face in the background of one scene, in a restaurant: John le Carré himself makes a cameo, as he did in the films of A Most Wanted Man and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy . But he is on screen only for an instant: blink and you'll miss him." [32]

Bird Box

Returning to film, Bier directed Bird Box, an American post-apocalyptic horror film. The screenplay, by Eric Heisserer, was based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman. The film stars Sandra Bullock, and had its world premiere at AFI Fest on 12 November 2018. It was released worldwide on 21 December 2018 by Netflix.

On Metacritic, Bird Box has received mixed to positive reviews. [33] Forbes called it a "truly terrible movie." [34]


Bier has been praised as being a director capable of making films that appeal to an international market, especially since After the Wedding (2006) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and In a Better World (2010) went on to win the award in 2011. [35] The international TV miniseries The Night Manager (2016), produced by BBC and AMC, received worldwide acclaim upon its premiere as well. It went on to receive 12 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations, winning one for Susanne Bier's directing efforts and four Golden Globe-nominations and three wins.

Style and themes

Bier's films often deal with the traditional family framework, with the collapse of the bourgeois middle class under the pressure of globalization, terrorism, and war, and the way in which people deal with a disaster or a formative event outside their lives. She notes that the moment that interests her in characters' lives is when their sense of security cracks and the outside world knocks on the door. The main questions in her films are questions of morality: whether it is moral to leave a partner who has become disabled, whether personal good precedes the general good, and how to respond to the violence directed at the individual. Bier often raises questions about how far one would go for a child is in distress, if social services appear to be unable or unwilling to help, and the limits one exceeds to get their own desires fulfilled. [36]

Bier's style of direction gives the players a great deal of freedom, allowing improvisation in both texts and presentation. Her films have a common visual code - all of them are filmed in a shoulder camera, and emotional peaks use extreme close-ups of eyes, lips, and fingers. In addition, the editing method is not faithful to the continuous editing tradition, and it adds to a more free and random feeling.

Bier's films are characterized by the fact that, despite their tragic structure, there is a "flattening" of the dramatic events, or, alternatively, no dramatization of the major events. For example, in the scene of the first encounter between the father and his daughter in After the Wedding, the two of them are silent for most of the scene, and talk about a bottle of water he brings to her. This style of direction creates the feeling that nothing happens in her films, but a thorough analysis of the events shows that the films are faithful to the dramatic structure of the Theatre of ancient Greece.

Moreover, Bier makes sure to finish her films with a slightly optimistic tone, saying that although her films are not purely commercial, they are also not pure art, and therefore she should communicate with her audience and give them some light to lean on. [37]


In Susan King's article, [18] Bier claims her Jewish heritage embedded a strong sense of family in conjunction to a sense of instability and turmoil. This pertains to her father's need to flee Germany in 1933 to Denmark, where he met Bier's mother. The two of them fled by boat to Sweden after Nazis began rounding up Jews in Denmark. Originally, Bier imagined herself married to a nice Jewish man with six children. She later decided that she wanted to pursue a career. She has been married twice and has two children, Gabriel and Alice. Despite this, she still holds family as her biggest influence and claims she would have never become a filmmaker without her children. To Bier, "family is a sense of identity". "I speak to my parents every day. I have a very close relationship to my aunts and uncles, but also my ex-husband…who comes to stay with us. I have this almost obsessive desire to whomever is close to me, I want to have a very intense, close, intimate relationship with them. That way of living definitely informs the stories I tell.”Although she frequently depicts international stories in third world countries, Bier had never been to Africa or India until she started making movies there. On her frequent interest and depiction of the Third World, Bier insists that "it is sort of pointing out that the Third World is really a part of our lives. It is unavoidable, and we need to relate to it…" As she writes in a public letter after winning the Oscar for In a Better World, [38] "My particular world is not just Copenhagen. It had to be broader than this. My world is larger than it used to be." In Sylvaine Gold's article, [8] Bier claims she doesn't like to be in a state of comfort when working. Typically in her films, happy and comfortable characters are met by situations of extreme sadness and catastrophe. She attributes this obsession to her parents experience during World War II when “society suddenly turned against them” because they were Jewish. Despite this obsession with tragedy, Bier says “I've had a very fortunate, very privileged life [but] I say that with all humility, because it could change tomorrow. But I have a very strong ability to empathize, to understand what things feel like." Her frequent writing collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen confirms this "humanness" in her, that "She's very good at putting herself in a character's place, which is really a gift." Bier also insists that despite her negative depictions in her films, she always wants to end a film with some vestige of hope. She never wants to alienate her audience, that it is always key to "have an ability to communicate".

Personal life

Bier was married to Swedish actor and director Philip Zanden. After her divorce from Zanden, she met her current partner, the Danish singer and composer Jasper Wenga Leisner, who wrote the music for several of her films. Bier has two children, both with Zanden, Gabriel (born in 1989) and Alice Esther (born in 1995). [39] [40]


Awards and nominations

Freud's Leaving Home (Freud flytter hjemmefra...) (1991)
Brev til Jonas (1992)
Family Matters (Det bli'r i familien) (1994)
Like It Never Was Before (Pensionat Oskar) (1995)
The One and Only (Den eneste ene) (1999)
Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt) (2002)
Brothers (Brødre) (2004)
After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) (2006)
In a Better World (Hævnen) (2010)
Love is All You Need (Den skaldede frisør) (2012)
The Night Manager (2016)

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Further reading