In a Better World DVD
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Directed by Susanne Bier
Produced in 2010
Main Language - Danish with English subtitles
The line between the everyday and the unthinkable is a thin one in Bier's exploration of the urges to idealism and vengeance. This is thoughtful cinema, skilfully served, says Nick Riddle.
It would be more or less accurate to describe Susanne Bier’s impressive, Oscar-winning film as a story about idealism - hence the title. But the original Danish title is Hævnen, which means ‘vengeance’. The real meat of the film is concerned with the tension between those two human impulses: to make the world better, and to smite its wrongdoers.
The story cuts between a small town in Denmark and a Sudanese refugee camp: Anton is a doctor whose commute between the two is breaking his marriage apart. Meanwhile, the elder of his two sons, Elias, is being victimised at school. Into this volatile atmosphere comes Christian, newly arrived from London with his father and carrying a pile of emotional baggage after the death of his mother from cancer. Christian befriends Elias and turns the tables on the school bully, but gets a taste for delivering retribution and recruits Elias as a reluctant co-conspirator.
The tension racks up brilliantly in the first half of the film, as Anton tries to teach the boys a lesson in moral courage after a run-in with a local thug, but Christian draws his own conclusions. Meanwhile, Anton’s work in the Sudan brings him to a stand-off with a local warlord whose female victims he has treated. The juxtaposition of northern and southern hemispheres works well, although writer Anders Thomas Jensen risks a certain glibness by drawing parallels between a murderous African warlord and a school bully.
But the point is strikingly made: even in a country like Denmark, known for its easygoing tolerance, violence and victimisation are rife. Anton and his family are Swedish, a fact used as a slur against them several times. The film works best when we can’t quite read the situation or the characters’ intentions: for example, is Christian just in blanked-out shock from grief, or a psychopath in the making?
This pent-up energy is finally released in a series of confrontations, and if Bier and Jensen ultimately draw back from the harrowing conclusion that was in prospect, they manage to suggest that the line between the everyday and the unthinkable is a thin one. There’s plenty of food for thought here, skillfully served.
Nick Riddle on 8th December 2011
Author of 77 reviews
Susanne Bier's Oscar-winning Danish drama, In a Better World is about the complex and damaging relationships within two dysfunctional families. After his mother's death, Christian moves from London back to his birth country, Denmark, with his father, who he believes to be responsible for the death of his mother. On his first day at school, he meets Elias, a boy of his own age struggling to cope with his parents' separation and imminent divorce, who is being bullied by his classmates. The two boys quickly form a strong bond, but when Christian acts rashly to protect Elias, their friendship is tested and their lives put in danger.
Publisher: Axiom Films
Length: 119 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 9th January 2012
Cat No: AXM639
Subtitles: English HoH
- Feature-length commentary with director Susanne Bier and editor Pernille Bech Christensen, an interview with Susanne Bier, deleted scenes, stills gallery, trailer
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