Who is...

Who is … Susanne Bier?

Ben Hamilton    February 19th, 2017

This article is more than 6 years old.

Susanne Bier (left) has worked with all of Danish cinema’s biggest stars (photo: Hasse Ferrold)

With the Oscars swiftly approaching, it’s as good a time as any to remember the last Dane to stride towards the stage to pick up a statuette: film director Susanne Bier in 2011.

Wrong! ‘Helium’ won Best Live Action Short for 2013.
Best Live Action Short! Nobody cares about those small awards. They don’t even make the highlights reel. When ‘Silent Nights’ got a nomination in the same category this year, Danish media were far more concerned about Viggo Mortensen getting a nod because he spent a few weeks Euro-railing here in the 1980s. It’s funny, but they never seem to get as excited about Michael Madsen.

True … there are no awards for Best Supporting Grump. Anyhow, why’s Bier so special? 
Well, she’s widely credited in this country with being the world’s first female director to win a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and an Emmy Award.

‘Widely credited’ – we sense you don’t agree
Yes, technically the 2010 Oscar she ‘won’ for ‘Hævnen’ (‘In a Better World’) was won by Denmark. According to the rules: “Unlike other Academy Awards, the Best Foreign Language Film Award is not presented to a specific individual. It is accepted by the winning film’s director, but is considered an award for the submitting country as a whole.” So yes, she won an Oscar, but along with 5.5 million other people.

That’s a bit pedantic! But I guess it means we’re all winners. Very Danish!
Nobody’s going to deny that Bier did most of the work, but maybe she could stop referring to it as “my Oscar”. And besides, she did win her very own Golden Globe for directing the film, and last year followed that up with an unexpected Emmy for the UK miniseries ‘The Night Manager’.

By unexpected you mean undeserved?
Well, despite its popularity and subsequent success at this year’s Golden Globes, the Emmy voters were clearly more impressed by ‘The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story’, which despite its ludicrous title is actually very good. But Susanne Bier had a massive advantage in her category – in fact some would call it unfair. Three of her five rivals for the award helmed episodes on the OJ Simpson series, thus splitting their vote considerably. OJ might have got more juice, but ‘The Night Manager’ got enough to take the gong.

So I guess this means she’s one of Denmark’s best directors?
Well, Lars von Trier is obviously aware of her as he referred to her in his infamous ‘I sympathise with Hitler speech’ at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011: “Not but come on, I’m not for the Second World War. And I’m not against Jews, Susanne Bier, no not even Susanne Bier, that was also a joke.”

So she’s Jewish?
Her father left Germany in 1933, met her Russian-born mother in Denmark, and then they both fled to Sweden during the Occupation. Bier has always credited her Jewish heritage with embedding her with a strong sense of family that is evident in her work, and also cited her parents’ hardships with her tendency to make films about happy and comfortable characters who encounter extreme sadness and catastrophe.

What is she working on now?
It’s just been announced that she will direct and executive produce a new drama series based on Karen Blixen’s book ‘Out of Africa’. According to the producers she has “a passionate attachment to Karen’s story” – although not quite as passionate as her attachment to her Oscar.


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