In The Hardest Of Moments, Susanne Bier Proves That "Love Is All You Need"

Love Is All You Need film poster.

Amongst the lush beautiful paradise of scenic Italy, a wedding is underway in Oscar-winner Susanne Bier’s Love Is All You Need or as the original title translates--The Bald Hairdresser.
Danish, English, and Italian languages weave a trilingual story about Ida, a mother of two who is excited about her daughter’s upcoming nuptials whilst in the throes of battling cancer. As a hairdresser, she is a caretaker catering to styling client heads, but hides hair loss obtained from chemotherapy treatments underneath a sleek blond wig.
Director/co-writer Susanne Bier with Pierce Brosnan (Phillip) and Trine Dyrholm (Ida).

In a world where hair reigns supreme, when a woman known for long locks makes headlines just for getting a haircut, Bier sheds a light on this important commodity for a woman’s beauty–often at the top of the hierarchy because strands identify, individualize, and tantalize the male gaze. It calls to mind the short film at Lunafest where Kim, a bold, unafraid cancer patient, gets a henna tattoo on her bald head … or the empowered alopecia survivor, Sheila Bridges in Good Hair who proudly prefers staying away from wigs and weaves. Ida’s blond wig protects her in a traditional way from pity or scrutiny, and it doesn’t make her ugly or insecure. Just human. She could have easily quit her hair styling profession but chose to continue doing what made her happy. However, harrowing strength and dignity cannot save her from Leif, her husband who sexes it up on the couch with his young assistant, Thilde–a woman their daughter’s age–who he’s been having an affair with for quite a while, even during Ida’s screenings and treatments!
Ida (Trine Dyrholm) isn’t pleased to see Thilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Müller) at her daughter’s wedding party and for good reason.

As Ida makes way to Italy alone, at the airport, her car accidentally encounters the grouchy, rich fruit-growing widower, Phillip, who just so happens to be the father of her daughter’s fiancé. He yells angrily at her, but she gives right back calling him “stupid and mean” and goes as far as asking, “Why would anyone work for you?” Although Ida’s day worsens when her suitcase is lost, she still doesn’t seem upset or unnerved. Just calm and optimistic. Phillip shares his background story with Ida–that his wife was killed in a winter car accident–and he still holds bitterness that grows even as the wedding is taking place where he once lived with her. Ida and Phillip’s relationship, which started off as sour as his orchard lemons, eventually warms into a blossomed camaraderie.

Their relationship deepens after one scene of raw poignancy. Phillip sees Ida swimming completely naked and free, and immediately comes to her “aide.” But she doesn’t need rescue from the sea. Out of the water, starkly bare, bald with breasts noticeably slashed and scarred, it is he who cannot stop eying her head to toe. From head to toe, he simply gazes everywhere. Her discomfort at his staring speaks to the audience. It is invasive and rude and even as she tells him to turn around so that she could put back on her clothes, he still takes a glimpse. It isn’t a lust induced fixation, but a quiet, serene moment cloaked in an honest portrait of struggling with the guttural shame cancer brings to a woman’s body and a man who doesn’t see the disease.

Mother and daughter: Ida (Trine Dyrholm) and Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind).

Astrid, Ida’s daughter, has a lot to stress about. She is to marry Patrick and is in love with him, but she doesn’t think that he loves her because they haven’t had sex. Their kisses are short and sweet, but Patrick does seem to lack a real genuine ardor for her. Yes, he obviously cares a great deal, but their relationship is missing something. His secrets are especially clear in the moment wine stains Astrid’s dress and he rubs at it simultaneously with another man–Alessandro, who has a crush on him. Camera focuses heavily on those two hands working vigorously against this mar near Astrid’s genitalia; showcasing not her sexuality, but that of the two men whose lust for each other sparks.

Three’s a crowd for Alessandro (Ciro Petrone), Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind), and Patrick (Sebastian Jessen).
Astrid is devastated by the treacherous events that cause an extravagant wedding not to take place, but thanks to Ida, her pain can be healed over time. Love is a thread that ties together mother and daughter, lacing forth a strength that cannot be severed. Leif’s affair and Patrick’s astonishing revelations are occurrences never expected to happen in these women’s worlds, but they did. It is only believable that Ida and Astrid turn to each other for a comforting bond that is always constant, nonjudgmental, and supportive. That when pain crashes down, it is best to seek solace in arms that will hold and nurture–what Ida brings to her daughter as they leave the saddened events of Italy behind them.

Leif, on the other hand, is such a callous bastard and way too many men share his behavioral traits. He has the audacity to bring Thilde to the wedding, and she has the nerve to introduce herself to all the guests as his fiancée. It’s funny that their son questions Thilde on why she is with Leif when the same could be asked of Ida–too strong of a character to be with such a self-centered coward. Once Ida comes out to the wedding party in an alluring red dress and dances with Phillip, Leif gets rid of Thilde and dances with his wife, seeming to be awakened by desire. Ida returns home with him, but her heart is in Italy.

Mother (Trine Dyrholm) and daughter (Molly Blixt Egelind) hugging it out. 

Bier’s co-writing and direction effort is a treat for women, and performance-wise, Trine Dyrholm takes the cake by rendering a softened beauty in Ida. Dyrholm brings forth a brave, spirited portrayal that hurls cancer’s cruelty into a darkened shadow and lets all the lights of life’s little joys come right inside to bring sunshine. What a powerful performance! Also Paprika Steen brings hilarious delight as Phillip’s horrible, overly talkative sister-in-law, Benedikte, who mistakenly thinks she has a chance with Phillip, but continually berates and shames her teenage daughter (including horrendous fat shaming) and mocks Ida. It only serves her right to get thrown up on and ridiculed by Phillip! It’s wonderful to note that Ida ignored Benedikte’s malicious comments or Thilde’s childish antics. Life is simply too short to wallow in shallow manners, and Ida simply continues to stride onward.
Ida (Trine Dyrholm) in the infamous red dress dances with Phillip (Pierce Brosnan).

At the film’s tranquil end, after another doctor’s visit, Ida finally leaves Leif with only her purse in hand, travels back to Phillip, and hands him over the envelope with her results from a lump testing. They share a tender, passionate kiss and open it together–leaving the conclusions to them alone. The audience doesn’t need to see how much time Ida has left.

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  • […] us that people and relationships are too complex to feel just one thing at a time. Her 2012 film Love Is All You Need (its Danish title is The Bald Hairdresser) is a romantic comedy about Ida, a hairdresser with […]