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Susanne Bier


Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier
Susanne Bier, 2013
Born Susanne Bier
(1960-04-15) 15 April 1960
Copenhagen, Denmark
Nationality Danish
Alma mater Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Architectural Association in London,[1]
National Film School of Denmark
Occupation Director, Writer, Producer
Years active 1991-present

Susanne Bier (born 15 April 1960) is a Danish film director best known for her feature films Brothers, After the Wedding and the Academy Award winning In a Better World.

Early life

Susanne Bier was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her father, Rudolf Salomon Bier, was a German Jew who left for Denmark in 1933, and her mother, Hennie Jonas's, family were Russian Jews.[2] She studied art and architecture at Jerusalem University before her acceptance to the National Film School of Denmark from where she graduated in 1987. She went on to direct various films in Denmark and Sweden, her first commercial success being the romantic comedy The One and Only in 1999. Later films include Open Hearts (2002), Brothers (2004 film), After the Wedding (2006) and In a Better World (2010) which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) is her only American film to date, however it was recently announced that she will direct the American adaptation of Rapt.[3]


Bier studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design in Jerusalem and read architecture in London before enrolling for the film direction course at the National Film School of Denmark. De Saliges (1987), Bier’s graduation film, won first prize at the Munich film school festival and subsequently distributed by Channel Four.[4]

Finding immediate success in Denmark with her features Frued Flytter Hjemmefra (Freud Leaving Home, 1990), Det Bli’r Familien (Family Matters, 1993), Pensionat Oscar (Like it Was Never Before, 1995) and Sekten (Credo, 1997), Bier’s major breakthrough came with Den Eneste Ene (The One and Only, 1999). A comedy about the fragility of life, the film won a clutch of Danish Film Academy awards and established Bier’s relationship with actor Paprika Steen. The film remains one of the most successful domestic films ever released in Denmark.

A sidestep from the easy going charm of Livet ar en schlager (Once in a Lifetime, 2000), Elsker dig for evigt (Open Hearts, 2002) brought Bier’s work to much wider international attention. 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.

Since the completion of Open Hearts, Bier’s reputation has continued to ascend with the harrowing Brødre (Brothers, 2004) and the emotional and engaging Efter Brylluppet (After the Wedding, 2006), which was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 2007 Academy Awards. After her somewhat disappointing 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 (2011).

Also a maker of shorts, music videos and commercials, Bier’s films typically meditate on pain, tragedy and atonement. Susan King[5] describes Bier’s films as “infused with an intimate concern for family yet often play out on a global stage.”

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


In Susan King’s article,[5] 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,[7] "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”.


Bier has been praised as being a director capable of making films that appeal to an international market (although she has yet to make a successful transition to Hollywood filmmaking). This is reflected by the fact that 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.[9]



Love is All You Need (Den skaldede frisør) (2012)

  • 2013 Robert Festival
    • Audience Award: Comedy[10]

In a Better World (Hævnen) (2010)

After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) (2006)

  • 2007 Festroia International Film Festival
    • Jury Special Prize
  • 2006 Film by the Sea International Film Festival
    • Audience Award
  • 2006 Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival
    • Audience Award

Brothers (Brødre) (2004)

  • 2005 Boston Independent Film Festival
    • Audience Award: Narrative
  • 2005 Creteil International Women's Film Festival
    • Audience Award: Best Feature Film
  • 2004 Hamburg Film Festival
    • Critics Award
  • 2005 Skip City International D-Cinema Festival
    • Grand Prize
  • 2005 Sundance Film Festival
    • Audience Award: World Cinema - Dramatic

Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt) (2002)

  • 2002 Toronto International Film Festival
    • International Critics' Award (FIPRESCI) - Special Mention
  • 2003 Bodil Awards
    • Best Film (Bedste danske film)
  • 2002 Lübeck Nordic Film Days
    • Baltic Film Prize for a Nordic Feature Film
  • 2003 Robert Festival
    • Audience Award
  • 2003 Rouen Nordic Film Festival
    • Press Award

The One and Only (Den eneste ene) (1999)

  • 2000 Robert Festival
    • Best Film (Årets danske spillefilm)
  • 2000 Bodil Awards
    • Best Film (Bedste danske film)

Like It Never Was Before (Pensionat Oskar) (1995)

  • 1995 Montréal World Film Festival
    • FIPRESCI Prize: Official Competition

Family Matters (Det bli'r i familien) (1994)

  • 1994 Rouen Nordic Film Festival
    • ACOR Award
    • Audience Award

Klamek ji bo Beko (1992)

  • 1993 Angers European First Film Festival
    • Audience Award: Feature Film

Brev til Jonas (1992)

  • 1993 Robert Festival
    • Best Short/Documentary (Årets kort/dokumentarfilm)

Freud's Leaving Home (Freud flytter hjemmefra...) (1991)

  • 1992 Angers European First Film Festival
    • Audience Award: Feature Film
    • C.I.C.A.E. Award
  • 1992 Creteil International Women's Film Festival
    • Grand Prix
  • 1992 Guldbagge Awards
    • Best Director (Nominated)[11]
  • 1991 Montréal World Film Festival
    • Montréal First Film Prize - Special Mention


  1. ^ "SUSANNE BIER". Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ About 6 hours ago (2011-02-23). "Oscar-Nominated Susanne Bier Remaking French Thriller ‘Rapt’ –". Retrieved 2011-03-11. 
  4. ^ Wood, Jason. Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview. London: Wallflower Press, 2006. Print. p. 3-13
  5. ^ a b King, Susan. “’In a Better World’ widens director Susanne Bier’s world.” Los Angeles Times 20 February 2011.
  6. ^ "The International Jury 2013". Berlinale. 28 January 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Bier, Susanne. "IN A BETTER WORLD: Post-Oscar letter from Susanne Bier." Axiom Films 17 March 2011.
  8. ^ Gold, Sylviane. “A Director Comfortable With Catastrophe.” The New York Times 25 March 2007.
  9. ^ "Denmark's 'In a Better World' wins foreign Oscar", Associated Press, 28 February 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  10. ^ "Awards for Susanne Bier". IMDB. IMDB. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  11. ^ "Freud flyttar hemifrån (1991)". Swedish Film Institute. 17 March 2014. 


  • Wood, Jason. Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview. London: Wallflower Press, 2006. Print. p. 3–13

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