By Betsy Sharkey, Tribune Newspapers critic
May 9, 2013
Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's excellent tragedies tend to feature the sorts of characters and conflicts that turn up in her newest movie, "Love Is All You Need." We meet a heartbroken widower, a breast-cancer survivor, an unfaithful husband, an estranged son, another headed off to war and a bulimic teenager, and we witness a wedding that is threatening to implode.
But this time, the writer-director has used her favorite themes to whip up a frothy confection and set it to Dean Martin's mellow "That's Amore."
Pierce Brosnan and an A-list of Danish actors led by Trine Dyrholm, Paprika Steen and Kim Bodnia are onboard as its stars. And though Bier isn't as comfortable with the lighter side of life, the film is a lovely little lark with a good head on its shoulders.
"Love's" cultural antecedents are international, drawn from Denmark, Britain and Italy. And as always, Bier and frequent writing collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen anchor the story in families.
It begins in a Copenhagen oncology office where Ida (Dyrholm), the mother of the bride, is getting ready to learn whether she is cancer-free. Across town, the groom's father, Philip (Brosnan), is in his well-appointed office being overbearing and irritating. Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) and his intended, Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind), are beautiful and bubbly and just arriving at a wonderfully weathered Italian country home where they will be married over the weekend. The house belongs to Philip, who closed it years ago after his wife died.
The table is now beautifully set for the series of disasters that will follow. Ida's son (Micky Skeel Hansen) is shipping out for battle, and she's worried. Husband Leif (Bodnia) is discovered in flagrante delicto on the living room couch with younger, blonder co-worker Tilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Muller). With a heavy heart, Ida heads to the airport, where she runs into Philip — literally — her tiny economy car leaving its mark on Philip's Mercedes. It is the first time they've met.
All this turmoil and more will be sorted out before the ceremony, as unexpected feelings begin to bloom between Philip and Ida under the Italian sun. Lief and Benedikte (Steen), Philip's sister-in-law, handle the comic-relief duties, both fearless in offering themselves up for humiliation.
Though the movie, at least in Bier's portfolio, is a slight work, it still has many of the filmmaker's signatures. Thematically, there are echoes of all that has preceded it. Bier's "Brothers" in 2004 explored the psychological damage of the Afghan war on a Danish officer; Jim Sheridan made a less powerful U.S. version in 2009. The filmmaker used "After the Wedding" in 2006 to examine death and deception. It was nominated for a foreign language Oscar. "In a Better World" examined a complicated entanglement between two troubled families and would take home the foreign language Oscar in 2011.
The most significant Bier touch — and the one that helps offset any self-indulgence in "Love" — is the authenticity that runs through all her films. Most of those moments involve the incredible Dyrholm. Whether it is the way she portrays Ida dealing with her wig, or gathering up her distraught daughter for a kiss on the forehead, the actress makes it feel absolutely real and absolutely right. There is such nuance to every move, it is easy to see why she is considered one of Denmark's finest.
As a movie, "Love" might not have all you need, but with the mesmerizing Dyrholm, it has enough.
'Love Is All You Need' -- 3 stars
MPAA rating: R (for brief sexuality, nudity and some language)
Running time: 1:52; in Danish, English and Italian with English subtitles
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