THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE

Oh, what a sad film this is! Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier directed this deliberately-paced, dark but hopeful melodrama about loss, forgiveness, and rejuvination. Halle Berry stars as Audrey Burke, an artist in Seattle and mother of two (a 6-year-old boy with a fear of dunking his head in the swimming pool, and a 10-year-old girl with a penchant for basketball). She is newly widowed when her husband Brian (David Duchovny) is gunned down in the midst of an act of domestic violence he happens to witness. That was always like Brian, being the Good Samaritan and going out of his way to help those who couldn’t be helped. Audrey particularly resents this trait when it comes to Brian’s best friend since childhood, Jerry (Benicio Del Toro, solid as ever), who she “forgets” to tell about Brian, and invites last-minute to the funeral. Jerry is a recovering heroin addict in need of a fresh start. Offering him a place to stay in her home, Audrey and Jerry work together to pick up the pieces of their fractured lives. This process is aided by a girl from Jerry’s NA support group named Kelly (an unrecognizable Alison Lohman), who takes to Jerry and sees in him an opportunity to do some good; this guy seems to draw that sort of attention like a flame draws moths. The film is sort of split into two halves, the first being the present, interspersed with seemingly random flashbacks to the marriage and the tragedy that led to the present, and the second half or so is more just straight-forward. This is a modern soap opera not quite to rival the works of Fassbinder or Almodovar, but it’s a respectable effort. Actually, I was somewhat reminded of the works of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, particularly the dour little gem “21 Grams” (2003) – not least because of the chronological leap-frogging, Del Toro’s performance, the cinematography, and the theme of sudden loss and the almost inexplicable need to move on right after. Bier is a little too content to give us close-ups on big eyes, and a few developments occur just a bit too abruptly, piling up one after another, but in a melodrama that’s to be expected – and forgiven.

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