Saturday, June 25, 2011

In a Better World - Make sure you see it

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best films don't always win an Oscar.  Nor do they always screen for very long in cinemas.   In A Better World falls sadly into the latter category.  In Sydney it screened for about a week at limited cinemas.   I was lucky enough to see it at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, where the director Susanne Bier received a standing ovation at the post screening Q & A. An auteur in the true sense of the word. There is NO mistaking a Susanne Bier film.

She uses shots of the natural world as chapters or signposts for story shifts in her films. This was a stunning idea in After the Wedding and she reprises the technique again here. In this film, as in After the Wedding, Bier moves her central character between Africa & Denmark. This time the scenes in Africa are more developed and integral to the films story. And again she looks at themes around death and forgiveness.  But although there are similarities between After the Wedding and In A Better World the latter is a very different film, which at it's core comments on whether anything is really gained from revenge.

Anton played by Mikael Persbrandt returns home to Denmark from an African refugee camp ravaged by war. At home Anton's marriage is falling apart and his eldest Elias son is being bullied at school. When a new boy in school, Christian, defends Elias against the bullies a new friendship is formed, but Christian is secretly deeply scarred over the recent death of his mother.  He convinces quiet, sensitive Elias to join him in an act of sabotage and revenge which could ultimately have fatal consquences. The adults in the film, especially Anton are left to trying to help the boys understand the complexities of revenge and forgiveness.
A powerful film on many levels and another stunning effort from Susanne Bier. I should add by the way, that in fact on this occasion Oscar got it right and In A Better World won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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