Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier

Bier in 2013
Born (1960-04-15) 15 April 1960
Copenhagen, Denmark
Nationality Danish
Alma mater Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design,
Architectural Association in London,[1]
National Film School of Denmark
Occupation Director, writer, producer
Years active 1991–present
Spouse(s) Philip Zandén (1995-?; divorced)
Jesper Winge Leisner (?-present)
Children 2

Susanne Bier (Danish pronunciation: [susanə ˈb̥iɐ̯ˀ], 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[2] and the TV miniseries The Night Manager. She is the first female director to win a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and an Emmy Award.[3]

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, was from a Russian Jewish family.[4]


Bier studied art and architecture at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and read architecture in London before enrolling for the film direction course at the National Film School of Denmark from where she graduated in 1987.[5] De Saliges (1987), Bier's graduation film, won first prize at the Munich film school festival and subsequently distributed by Channel Four.[6]

Finding immediate success in Denmark with her features Freud Flytter Hjemmefra (Freud's Leaving Home, 1990), Det Bli’r i Familien (Family Matters, 1993), Pensionat Oscar (Like it Was Never Before, 1995) and Sekten (Credo, 1997), her first commercial success being The One and Only in 1999. A romantic 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 är 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 (2010).[7]

Also a maker of shorts, music videos and commercials, Bier's films typically meditate on pain, tragedy and atonement. Susan King describes them as "infused with an intimate concern for family yet often play[ing] out on a global stage."[8]

In 2013 she was a member of the jury at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.[9]


In Susan King's article,[8] 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,[10] "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,[11] 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.[12]

Personal life

Bier married actor Philip Zandén in 1995 but they later divorced; they have two children, Gabriel (born in 1989) and Alice Esther (born in 1995).[13] She is now married to Jesper Winge Leisner.[14]



Freud's Leaving Home (Freud flytter hjemmefra...) (1991)
Brev til Jonas (1992)
Family Matters (Det bli'r i familien) (1994)
Like It Never Was Before (Pensionat Oskar) (1995)
The One and Only (Den eneste ene) (1999)
Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt) (2002)
Brothers (Brødre) (2004)
After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) (2006)
In a Better World (Hævnen) (2010)
Love is All You Need (Den skaldede frisør) (2012)
The Night Manager (2016)


  1. "Susanne Bier". Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  2. Piil, Morten (2005). Danske filminstruktører (in Danish). Copenhagen, Denmark: Gyldendal. pp. 45–. ISBN 978-87-02-02981-9.
  3. Schauser, Søren (12 November 2016). "I Always Fall a Bit in Love With My Characters". (in Danish). Berlingske. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  4. Johnson, Brian D. (12 April 2011). "The best in the world". Maclean's. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  5. Wood, Jason (2006). Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview. Wallflower Press. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-1-904764-90-8.
  6. Wood, Jason. Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview. London: Wallflower Press, 2006. Print. p. 3-13
  7. "Oscar-Nominated Susanne Bier Remaking French Thriller 'Rapt'". 23 February 2011. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
  8. 1 2 King, Susan (20 February 2011). "'In a Better World' widens director Susanne Bier's world". Los Angeles Times.
  9. "The International Jury 2013". Berlinale. 28 January 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  10. Bier, Susanne (17 March 2011). "In A Better World: Post-Oscar letter from Susanne Bier". Axiom Films.
  11. Gold, Sylviane (25 March 2007). "A Director Comfortable With Catastrophe". The New York Times.
  12. "Denmark's 'In a Better World' wins foreign Oscar"". Associated Press. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  13. "Susanne Bier Biography". IMDB.
  14. "Director Susanne Bier and husband Jesper Winge Leisner".
  15. "Freud flyttar hemifrån (1991)". Swedish Film Institute. 17 March 2014.
  16. "Awards for Susanne Bier". IMDB. IMDB. Retrieved 5 August 2013.


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