Sunday, 3 February 2008

Things We Lost In The Fire - Review by Sandra Dupuy

Director: Susanne Bier
Screenwriter: Allan Loeb
Running Time: 115 mins
Certificate: 15
Released: Feb 1st

The family and its complex mechanics are at the heart of Dogma director Susanne Bier’s work. She has successfully tackled many related issues in previous Danish work like Open Hearts (2002), Brothers (2004) and After the Wedding (2006). Things We Lost in the Fire, her first foray into English language and Hollywood territory, picks up where After the Wedding had ended, a funeral.

The death of a loved one is the most damaging event one can experience. It leaves you feeling empty, guilty and cursing life’s futility. Such is widow Audrey Burke’s (Halle Berry) state of mind at the opening of the film. Impulsively befriending her husband Brian’s (David Duchovny) childhood friend Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), a recovering addict, she navigates grief and denial with him until they build up strength to bounce back.

A gut-wrenching immersion into mourning and addiction, Things We Lost… does not quite possess the subtle poignancy of After the Wedding. However, Bier brings credibility and decency to Allan Loeb’s fairly flawed script. It is a masochistic pleasure to delve into Things we Lost… with an increasingly melancholy heart, thanks to its flowing and searching camera moves. The extreme close-ups on the characters’ eyes, abstract windows of their soul, lead us into a maze of emotions to painful to be uttered or confronted. Entrancing twilights, atmospheric palettes of unsaturated blues and greys and a haunting piano tune envelop Audrey, her children and Jerry’s sorrowful wanders with quiet compassion.

Though the ambiguous portrayal of Audrey Burke is Berry’s best performance since playing Leticia Musgrove in Mark Forster’s 2001 Monster’s Ball, a couple of scenes strongly hint at the quest for another Oscar. While Berry can play Audrey with alternate indifference, despair and ferocity without being completely compelling, Del Toro inhabits Jerry with such grace, guts and abandon that his portrait of a down-and-out junkie is the most intricate depiction of addiction and forsaken humanity ever to come to celluloid life. Some of Berry and Duchovny’s lines sound unrealistic and na├»ve, bordering on ludicrous, but Del Toro’s acting tour-de-force redeems narrative flaws and melodramatic outbursts alike. He is the film’s anchor, transforming Things We Lost in the Fire from what could have been a superior tear-jerker into a mesmerising study of love, loss and resilience.

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