I took some time out to watch a movie this afternoon. I am so behind on my 2008 movies! So I watched one of the Netflix DVDs that have been sitting on my TV table for the last three months:
Last year's Things We Lost in the Fire is the first English-language film by Danish director Susanne Bier. (If you look at my list for 2007, you will see her other 2007 feature After the Wedding hanging out at #11. Briefly, I found After the Wedding to be a powerfully moving meditation on death, doing the right thing and parental responsibility. Quite frankly, I loved it, and I feel that it fully deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film.)
Things We Lost in the Fire retains all of what I love about Bier. The film stars Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro as the wife and best friend of a man who has recently died. It's a very intelligent film about themes similar to After the Wedding. Fire centers around fascinating, quirky characters dealing with deep grief and attempting to cope with one another in addition to their loss.
The film is superbly acted, and Bier has a way with Realistic storytelling that gives us just enough to keep us riveted to the story without having to wallow in self-pity or sentimentality. The most moving scene in the film is actually one of the film's happiest. The family go around the table remembering things and quizzing one another on what they remember about their absent father/husband/friend. It's an incredible scene: totally simple and at the same time devastating.
I think what I like most about Bier's movies, though, is their intelligence. In its meditations on addiction and parenthood, Fire is a very smart film. Bier never takes the easy way out with her narratives. These lives have been disrupted by an act of violence and her film knows that things don't just go back to normal ever. But what Things We Lost in the Fire does give us—and what After the Wedding gives us, too—is the hope that human connection can help us cope with life's many tragedies. Things aren't going to be perfect, but they can be better.