Director: Susanne Bier
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Kim Bodnia, Molly Blixt Egelind, Paprika Steen, Trine Dyrholm
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 116 mins
[youtube id=”afvT_XOlpro” width=”620″ height=”360″]
“WOULD you mind if I kissed you?” asks the handsome but diffident Philip, of the lovely but vulnerable Ida, in Susanne Bier’s touching melodrama Love is All You Need.
As Philip is played by Pierce Brosnan, an almost perceptible murmur arises among female viewers, wondering: “Why would she mind?”
Currently on general release, Love is All You Need is rightly drawing favourable notices. Its title might suggest a fluffy-edged love story, and it does have some typical rom-com features, but it’s more a thoughtful and provocative ensemble piece that portrays the difficulties of relationships, families, ageing and sexuality.
It ought to find the softer side of even the most cynical cinema goer.
Originally from Denmark, Bier has won recognition for her stories of emotional loss and revival. She’s sometimes charged with over sentimentality but her films do not offer up easy or pat solutions to people’s common problems.
In Britain she’s perhaps best known for Things We Lost in the Fire (2007), a dark but sensitive post-bereavement tale and in which, astonishingly, she made a kindly figure out of Benicio Del Toro.
Bier achieves a similar transformative feat with Brosnan in Love is All You Need, coaxing a performance that both suits his statuesque persona but also gives it a wobble. Brosnan’s exquisite but frosty exterior has melted somewhat of late, going all Abba-esque in Mamma Mia! (2008), but his role as Philip in Bier’s film uncovers unseen and even unexpected depths.
Philip is a widower in late middleage who still mourns the death of his wife some 20 years before. A successful fruit-and-veg wholesaler, he has nevertheless become reserved, almost reclusive and is in danger of vegetating along with his radishes. But when his son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) is to be married, Philip encounters Ida (the superb Trine Dyrholm), mother of his future daughter-in-law Astrid (Molly Egelind).
Though Ida enters Philip’s closed-off world with a bang, she has her own problems. She’s in recovery from breast cancer and has lost her adulterous husband Leif (Kim Bodina from acclaimed Danish crypto-drama The Bridge), who’s taken up with a blonde beauty half his age, and half Ida’s, too. The action begins in Copenhagen but moves to Naples for the wedding party and though there’s little in the way of plot, the contained pains of all the characters gradually emerge.
What’s impressive about the narrative is how its surface action moves the story along but also suggests symbolic meanings that slowly reveal deeper levels of feeling. Rom-com experts say that every tortuous love tale should include what’s called a “meet-cute”, an engaging or vivid plot-point when the troubled couple’s lives become inextricably entwined. (See When Harry Met Sally for the finest example.) The meet-cute should include coded details that expose their true meanings as the relationship grows, and Philip and Ida’s meet-cute does so with telling effects (unrevealed here).
Love is All You Need is also gently expressive on the relations between parents and children, of whatever age-group, and on how the need for support shifts between the generations. Bier includes some delicate scenes between mother and daughter, and father and son that are among the best in the movie.
One sign of an interesting story is that it teaches you something surprising about an arcane subject. Just as Alexander Payne’s Sideways (2004) used the nature of winemaking to express its characters’ changing sensibilities, so Love is All You Need uses fruit cultivation the same way. As Philip courts Ida he riffs on the strangeness of citrus plants, explaining how oranges and lemons grow on the same tree, thus making a metaphor for the strangeness caught up between men and women.
Such softness is a fair step from where Brosnan’s film career began, playing an IRA gunman aiming a pistol at Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday (1980). Back then he was so impossibly good-looking that he evinced an almost diabolical beauty.
Yet his exquisitely cool exterior seemed so icy that many roles saw him as some super-efficient killer, until he finally came to play cinema’s most debonair assassin in James Bond. Brosnan played Bond four times and, Bond fans claim, revitalised the franchise.
Some complained that an Irish actor couldn’t play Britain’s most glamorous secret agent, forgetting that Ian Fleming based Bond on Sidney Reilly, a mysterious Russian Jew who chose an Irish name because he wanted an effective disguise.
Brosnan was actually offered the role twice before taking it and, given his devilishly handsome looks and cold-eyed killer mien, the move seems inevitable now.
Brosnan’s strongest movie to date is Seraphim Falls (2006), co-starring Liam Neeson, a vengeance Western that uses the genre in the Budd Boetticher idiom, not as historical but as biblical-mythical storytelling. (It also features a wicked cameo from Angelica Huston.)
Susanne Bier says she’s lucky that the heroine in her movie can “fall in love with James Bond”. But Love is All You Need also shows the human flaws beneath Brosnan’s consummate comportment.
Brosnan hits 60 on May 16. A popular performer who is yet to win critical acclaim, perhaps the best looking of all Irish male actors is now showing the best of his acting.
■ Love Is All You Need is in cinemas now