IN A BETTER WORLD
Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor commuting between his provincial home in Denmark, and his work at an African refugee camp while struggling with the possibility of a divorce from his wife Marianne (Trine Dryholm). Their older, ten-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is being bullied at school, until Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), comes along, a new boy who has just moved from London with his father, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) following the death of his mother from cancer. Elias and Christian form a strong bond, but when Christian involves Elias in a dangerous act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences, their friendship is tested and lives are put in danger.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There are so many rich layers and moral quandaries in this latest Jensen/Bier collaboration it's almost overwhelming. And this makes for a highly emotional and satisfying experience, as the characters journey through a jungle of dangers that beset the human condition. The bookend opening and closing scenes in an African refugee camp provide a broader context for everything that happens in between. Some elements from earlier collaborations (Open Hearts, After the Wedding and Brothers) will be familiar to their fans, as themes that interest the filmmakers.
There are new themes, too, such as the moral dilemma of how best to respond to violence, which is tackled in two vastly different contexts.
But much of the overarching dramatic tension comes from the intricate relationship between the two young boys - both superbly played by Markus Rygaard and William Johnk Nielsen - and the contrast of their respective fathers, and the father/son relationships. There is nothing simplistic in this screenplay, yet at its core it's a simple story of friendship, albeit impacted by forces outside the relationship.
Mikael Persbrandt is excellent as Anton, the doctor in the midst of a conflicted marriage, a son distanced by school bullying and the stress of his work in dire circumstances. The refugee camp is a setting that provides a subplot that fills out the themes and enlarges the film to fill the big screen. But even without this aspect, the story of the two youngsters grappling with emotions they can hardly understand or control makes the film powerful enough.
Ulrich Thomsen, another member of Danish acting 'royalty' has a tougher job as the widowed father resented by his 10 year old son Elias, and he makes his every on screen moment count.
With her predictably fine eye for casting, director Susanne Bier delivers a gripping drama that is carefully structured to allow us to follow every change of place and every nuanced scene with clarity. Awards and accolades are assured.
First published in the Sun-Herald
Review by Louise Keller:
A powerful drama with emotions that soar, Susanne Bier's Academy Award winning film allows the juxtaposition of life in two different worlds to add its own dynamic. Bier has the innate ability to tap into our emotions and allow the situations and relationships in her films to affect us profoundly. In a Better World is one such film, with its large scale themes of life and death and the temptations of taking life and the law into our own hands. Deeply moving and involving, this is a story that asks tough questions about revenge and violence and as a result, delivers an unforgettable cinematic experience.
Anders Thomas Jensen's screenplay begins in the dusty plains of Kenya, where a warm breeze makes its presence felt on the tent flaps of the refugee camp. Native children run happily after the car in which Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), the kindly doctor arrives. He epitomises goodness and Persbrandt is eminently likeable in the role. We soon get a sense of the urgency faced in this chaotic environment as a young pregnant girl is wheeled in, having been mutilated in a tribal taunt. Tragically, it is not a unique case.
The parallel of bullying is drawn in a faraway Danish school, where Elias (Markus Rygaard) gets support from the new boy Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen). Christian has bottled up concentrated anger since the recent death of his mother from cancer. From letting down bicycle-tyres to creating a home made bomb for destructive purposes, Christian looks for any excuse to hit back - especially at his father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) who feels impotent.
The pact between the two boys is cemented by a secret and the common elements they share with the absence of a close knit family life. With his father Anton commuting to his work in Africa and his doctor mother Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) unable to forgive Anton for an indiscretion, there are complex emotions everywhere.
When Anton shows the boys a different way to fight back (by choosing not to retaliate with violence), they do not understand. Instead of understanding the power of self-control, they interpret his actions as a sign of weakness. Their lesson is to be learned in a far more dramatic circumstance. There are potent moments when Anton and Marianne talk candidly about their relationship problems in a late night phone call and another when the two boys discuss death and its consequences in unexpected terms. The dramatic scene in Kenya when Anton is faced with issues of moral conscience is one of the most powerful, as is another high on the roof of a silo, where the wind picks up momentum and where Christian gathers his thoughts.
Propelled by its emotions and a subliminal music score, the film leaves us well satisfied as it builds to its potent conclusion. Cleansing tears fall and the veil that lifts between life and death dances in the breeze.
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IN A BETTER WORLD (MA15+)
CAST: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dryholm, Ulrich Thomsen, William Johnk Nielsen, Markus Rygaard, Wil Johnson, Eddie Kihani, Emily Mglaya
PRODUCER: Sisse Graum Jorgensen
DIRECTOR: Susanne Bier
SCRIPT: Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Morten Soborg
EDITOR: Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm
MUSIC: Johan Soderqvist
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Peter Grant
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 31, 2011