Berry’s performance is more subtle and hard to detect. Audrey throws herself into other distractions after Brian dies, and this lack of emotion makes it seems as if Berry’s character is easy to play. It is not.
Things We Lost in the Fire, directed by Susanne Bier, is a masterpiece of subtle yet powerful filmmaking. Bier, who also directed last year’s After the Wedding which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, betrays nothing on the surface of the characters and story, but leaves the true feelings and emotions imbedded in the smallest gesture, look or pause.
Ostensibly, the film is about Audrey Burke (Halle Berry) who loses her husband, Brian (David Duchovny), in a tragic altercation with a stranger. Audrey is devastated, but still has to make funeral arrangements, explain what happened to her two children and figure out who to notify about Brian’s death. One person she reluctantly calls is Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), Brian’s best friend since childhood who at one time was a lawyer and is now hopelessly addicted to heroin. Audrey is reluctant to bring Jerry into her home, but does it out of respect for Brian.
After seeing how destitute Jerry is, Audrey invites him to stay with her and help her convert the garage, which has burnt down, into a guesthouse. For Jerry, the helping hand coupled with his best friend’s death is the impetus for him to regain the life he once had and is capable of having again. For Audrey, she has a warm body around and some type of connection to Brian.
The film is told from three different perspectives, making each connection that much more meaningful and effective. We only see or hear about Brian through flashbacks or stories that other characters share with us. Audrey remembers both the good memories and the bad, making it that much more difficult to move on. In the present, we get to experience a new world through the eyes of Audrey and Jerry. Both characters are lonely and screaming for help, but aren’t able to express what they feel.
Del Toro is phenomenal, giving the year’s best performance so far. Jerry is a difficult character because he is a heroin addict, but doesn’t try to hide what he is. He is open, honest, willing to answer questions about himself and is never untruthful. Jerry is constantly lost in his hard rock music, the soundtrack of his newfound life as he finds a new way to escape reality drug free. Del Toro brings humor and sadness to a character that could easily be played as just a druggie.
Berry’s performance is more subtle and hard to detect. Audrey throws herself into other distractions after Brian dies, and this lack of emotion makes it seems as if Berry’s character is easy to play. It is not. She holds all her anger, frustration, sadness and desires beneath the surface while giving the best imitation of a mother she can, feeling almost guilty that she wants to curl up and cry for hours.
Bier masterfully conducts this symphony of sadness and loss with true skill. She shows us how our whole lives can be lost because we spend so much time focusing on the past, trying to relive the happy experiences of the past instead of creating new ones for ourselves. She creates three separate worlds that connect in only a handful of moments throughout the film, emphasizing the idea of loneliness.
Things We Lost in the Fire contains so many beautiful moments of silence and small beats that substitute unnecessary dialogue. If the old adage is true that the eyes are the windows to the soul, we are shown the true depths of these two people’s souls and how they are able to find strength by being vulnerable to one another. | Matthew F. Newlin