Wednesday, October 24, 2007

London Film Fest Day 8 - THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is directed by the Danish helmer who gave us AFTER THE WEDDING, one of the most powerful movies that I've seen this year. AFTER THE WEDDING is a film about a charity worker who returns to Denmark apparently to negotiate a grant for an Indian orphanage. But he is ambushed by a series of revelations and thrown into an affluent world that changes his life. It is a quiet movie based on powerful performances, realistic dialogue and beautiful photography that often uses extreme close-ups to create a sense of intimacy.

On the face of it, Susanne Bier’s first English-language project shares much of the same emotional and narrative territory with AFTER THE WEDDING. Both concern the mourning process and what happens when people from very different social strata form relationships. They are also both films whose plot hinges on a major and unlikely turn of events.

Just as Mads Mikkelsen's former drug-addict was at the heart of AFTER THE WEDDING, the heart of THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is a warm-hearted recovering heroin-addict called Jerry (Benicio del Toro). His best friend is an affluent property developer called Steven (David Duchovny). Steven is married to Audrey (Halle Berry) and has two cute kids and a solid successful friend called Howard (John Carroll Lynch). Although Steven's wife and friends are suspicious of Jerry - seeing him as a parasitic bum - when Steven is tragically killed they propel him into the centre of their world. Audrey takes Jerry into her house despite the fact that he's a recovering, then relapsing addict. Howard arranges for him to qualify as a mortgage broker. Jerry's good and frank nature helps them all and they in turn get him clean. It's a story of redemption and rebuilding a life in much the same way as AFTER THE WEDDING was. It's also well acted, with Benicio del Toro and John Carroll Lynch the stand-out cast members.

The problem is that THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE is a far less original and haunting drama than AFTER THE WEDDING. The shooting style is a watered down version of what we saw in AFTER THE WEDDING. None of the performances ever touch the raw emotion of Mads Mikkelsen in AFTER THE WEDDING. And even the zig-zagging time line seems derivative of other ponderous, self-important flicks like CRASH and BABEL. Overall, I came away unimpressed. It's all well done but slightly derivative. It never grabbed me by the gut and wrenched me out of my seat in the way that AFTER THE WEDDING did. And that is a great disappointment.

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE played London 2007 and is on release in the US. It goes on release in Mexico on December 28th 2007 and in Belgium, France, Argentina, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands in January 2008. It opens in Finland, Iceland, Australia, Sweden and Turkey in February and in Norway in March.

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