Newest Hollywood Trend: Borrowing Susanne Bier

On December 4, Lionsgate will release a film called Brothers, described as a “drama/war” film on Wikipedia. The movie stars Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tobey Maguire, and is directed by Irish filmmaker, Jim Sheridan. It’s an American remake of a Danish movie by the same title, directed by Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, Things We Lost in the Fire), written by Anders Thomas Jensen, and released in 2004.

Now why is a film that not many people have heard of from just five years ago being remade? Well, I have some thoughts on that.

On April 26, 2007, Zach Braff made the following announcement on his official blog:

What else? My dream-first choice- hero of mine – actor wants to do the next film I’m set to direct, “Open Hearts”, but I don’t think I’m gonna be able to direct it this summer as I had hoped since I’m due to be back at Scrubs on August 1st.

Open Hearts will also be an American remake of a Danish film of the same name, this one released in 2002…and also directed by Susanne Bier and written by Anders Thomas Jensen. It’s a Dogme 95 film, which in brief means that it’s devoid of all the “fancy” tricks and methods of conventional filmmaking. (You can read more details about it in another post from a few weeks ago.) Essentially, Bier’s Open Hearts is a story of a woman who cheats on her paralyzed husband…with the husband of the woman who caused the tragic accident.

The tone of Bier’s film is uncomfortable, primarily, with a stroke of raw heartbreak. It sounds like a melodrama, but it feels more like a couple’s home videos you were never, ever supposed to see.

What will Zach Braff do with this story? I honestly don’t think I want to know. But I’ll take a guess anyway – I think he’ll ruin it. I think he’ll try to capture the same effect, but while playing a Thievery Corporation song on top of it. I think he’ll cast well-known “indie” actors, and I think the film will look nice and pretty, with well-composed shots throughout. But hey, maybe he’ll prove me wrong. We’ll have to see in 2011, which is currently the estimated release of Braff’s remake.

But back to the more timely matter. Bier and Jensen’s film from 2004, Brothers (Brødre), is not a Dogme 95 film, but it still retains a candid and uncomfortably honest spirit such as in Open Hearts. The plot – again – sounds like a melodrama: When the older brother is declared dead while fighting in Afghanistan, the younger brother starts to take care of the widowed wife and her kids. Within time, the younger brother and the widow fall for each other. However, everyone’s lives get turned upside down when they find out the older brother is actually still alive.

It sounds like a soap opera, but it doesn’t feel like one when you watch it. This is the best trailer I found for the original Brothers, which might give you little insight into the tone of the movie.

What sparked this post was this trailer (Trailer 1) for the remake. No, you can’t always judge a movie by its trailer, but something already seems off about it. The scenes look almost identical to the original, but it feels like a sensational love story that turns into a thriller. “This is not right,” my mind keeps saying as I watch the preview. Hearing Natalie Portman murmur apathetically, “I thought you were dead” doesn’t help matters much either. This is how the film could turn out: forced emotion with bland, uninterested acting and not-so-subtle writing. (One of the reasons these stories worked in Bier’s films is because Jensen wrote them with the philosophy that not everything needs to be said.)

You could easily argue that these are remakes, and given that alone, they are supposed to different. They are supposed to be reinterpreted based on whatever style or mood the filmmakers are trying to achieve. This is true. But I believe these remakes are completely pointless. For one, these are not classic films. Instead, they are relatively unknown, foreign, contemporary films. They were both released less than ten years ago.

But I think Hollywood executives and directors like Zach Braff see these films and are merely struck by their brutal honesty. Then they say, “Hey, that was pretty good…I’m going to tell that story myself!” But the thing is – you’re stripping that story of the rawness and grittiness that made it good in the first place. Without these things, it just becomes another adulterous melodrama, and all you’re left with is the soap opera plotline played out by some well-known actors.

This is not about elitism, or liking something just because it’s smaller and lesser-known.  It’s about the essence of something. And when you change the essence of something unique and specifically good, it just looks like anything else.

In a few sentences? These Danish movies work because they aren‘t Hollywood. Taking something that’s great because it’s not Hollywood and then making it Hollywood? That might be the definition of “counterproductive.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I will give Sheridan’s Brothers a fair chance and see it when it comes out in theaters. I will also try to be as unbiased as possible when analyzing the film’s quality in a review. This, however, is just a rant/observation.

Polanski’s Friends Tut-tut at Rape Crime


Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The more directors and actors that sign the Polanski apologist petition, the more I want to forget I ever studied film and go into sales.

For anyone who hasn’t read the actual petition word for word, it reads as follows (and no, I’m not kidding):

Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski now sleeps in prison.

He risks extradition to the United States for an episode that happened years ago and whose principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings.

Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.

We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it.

Obviously, I’ve bolded the phrases that stand out as most ridiculous to me, mostly due to their elitist and pompous nature. But please note especially that the rape of a 13-year-old child has been belittled to a mere “episode.” Wait, you mean to tell me he was arrested after 32 years for fleeing the country in escape of punishment for a MERE episode?! What absurdity!

Replace “an episode” with “unlawful sex with a minor” (as the law calls it), or more realistically (given the survivor’s account): “the drugging and raping of a 13-year-old girl,” and it doesn’t sound as petty somehow.

These are the things that seem to be trending mentions in Polanski’s defense: the fact that he survived Nazi-occupied Poland and an Austrian concentration camp, the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson family (as indescribably horrid as those events must have been – there’s no arguing that), and the fact that he is one of our most celebrated directors of contemporary film. I’m sorry, but none of these excuse Roman Polanski from pleading guilty to charges of unlawful sex with a minor (whom he also drugged and intoxicated, mind you) and fleeing the U.S. in order to escape punishment. Do we bring up a painful past – and so adamantly – for other men who have plead guilty to the same crime?

Oh, but then there’s Harvey Weinstein. (Of The Weinstein Company and co-founder of Miramax, for anyone who doesn’t know.) He released a statement saying, amongst other astonishing things, “Whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polanski has served his time.”

SO-CALLED crime? So now Harvey Weinstein is more apt than the law to determine what’s a REAL crime and what’s a SO-CALLED crime? God help us that he ever goes into law, because then, apparently, raping a minor would only be a SO-CALLED crime. But see, by calling it a “so-called crime,” again, Hollywood elitist assholes can trick themselves and their peers into thinking that no justice need be served, because there’s nothing of real importance or legitimacy to serve justice for.

Way to go, gang. Just keep telling yourselves that. Oh, and by the way, I’m pretty sure Polanski has NOT “served his time” by prancing around Europe freely, remarrying (to a woman 30 years his junior, of course) and having children, while making and releasing films and even winning an Oscar for one of them. Actually, on second thought, that does sound awful. Like, pure torture.

Weinstein also added:

It is a shocking way to treat such a man. Polanski went through the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family. How do you go from the Holocaust to the Manson family with any sort of dignity? In those circumstances, most people could not contribute to art and make the kind of beautiful movies he continues to make.

See, in Hollywood, making “beautiful movies” should excuse a fugitive of 30 years.

I’m at a point where I think I am more disgusted with Polanski’s supporters than Polanski himself. That said, we actually have no recent statements from Polanski to go off of. But the words of his supporters say it all. Too much, actually. All of these film festival directors, studio execs, actors, and of course, directors, have proven once and for all that they live in their own little world, with their own little euphemisms to belittle words like “rape” and “crime.” For those who live in this world – the one I’m writing from, the one that everyone else who’s outraged by this lives in – Hollywood has never looked so despicable.

There are two questions for Polanski apologists to consider: 1) What if it was YOUR daughter 30 years ago? and 2) In the words of Joy Behar, “What if Polanski was a plumber?” Would you still support him fiercely then?

Bottom line: Roman Polanski and his allies should feel lucky that he was able to “continue” to make “beautiful movies” all these years, instead of doing what he SHOULD have done – which is, serve time for the crime he pleaded guilty to over 30 years ago.

What’s not to understand about this, I ask you? ALL of you, listed below, who have (thus far) signed the “Free Polanski” petition? What’s NOT to understand?

Fatih Akin, Stephane Allagnon, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Wes Anderson, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Alexandre Arcady, Fanny Ardant, Asia Argento, Darren Aronofsky, Olivier Assayas, Alexander Astruc, Gabriel Auer, Luc Barnier , Christophe Barratier, Xavier Beauvois , Liria Begeja , Gilles Behat, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Marco Bellochio, Monica Bellucci, Djamel Bennecib, Giuseppe Bertolucci , Patrick Bouchitey, Paul Boujenah, Jacques Bral, Patrick Braoudé, André Buytaers, Christian Carion, Henning Carlsen, Jean-michel Carre, Mathieu Celary, Patrice Chéreau, Elie Chouraqui, Souleymane Cissé, Alain Corneau, Jérôme Cornuau, Miguel Courtois, Dominique Crevecoeur, Alfonso Cuaron, Luc et Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Jonathan Demme, Alexandre Desplat, Rosalinde et Michel Deville, Georges Dybman, Jacques Fansten, Joël Farges, Gianluca Farinelli (Cinémathèque de de Bologne), Etienne Faure, Michel Ferry, Scott Foundas, Stephen Frears, Thierry Frémaux, Sam Gabarski, René Gainville, Tony Gatlif, Costa Gavras, Jean-Marc Ghanassia, Terry Gilliam, Christian Gion, Marc Guidoni, Buck Henry, David Heyman, Laurent Heynemann, Robert Hossein, Jean-Loup Hubert, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Gilles Jacob, Just Jaeckin, Alain Jessua, Pierre Jolivet, Kent Jones (World Cinema Foundation), Roger Kahane, Nelly Kaplan, Wong Kar Waï, Ladislas Kijno, Harmony Korinne, Jan Kounen, Diane Kurys, Emir Kusturica, John Landis, Claude Lanzmann, André Larquié, Vinciane Lecocq, Patrice Leconte, Claude Lelouch, Gérard Lenne, David Lynch, Michael Mann, François Margolin, Jean-PierreMarois, Tonie Marshall, Mario Martone, Nicolas Mauvernay, Radu Mihaileanu, Claude Miller, Mario Monicelli, Jeanne Moreau, Sandra Nicolier, Michel Ocelot, Alexander Payne, Richard Pena (Directeur Festival de NY), Michele Placido, Philippe Radault, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Raphael Rebibo, Yasmina Reza, Jacques Richard, Laurence Roulet, Walter Salles, Jean-Paul Salomé, Marc Sandberg, Jerry Schatzberg, Julian Schnabel, Barbet Schroeder, Ettore Scola, Martin Scorsese, Charlotte Silvera, Abderrahmane Sissako, Paolo Sorrentino, Guillaume Stirn, Tilda Swinton, Jean-Charles Tacchella, Radovan Tadic, Danis Tanovic, Bertrand Tavernier, Cécile Telerman, Alain Terzian, Pascal Thomas, Giuseppe Tornatore, Serge Toubiana, Nadine Trintignant, Tom Tykwer, Alexandre Tylski, Betrand Van Effenterre, Wim Wenders.‡