Sunday, April 3, 2011

Movie with Abe: In a Better World

In a Better World
Directed by Susanne Bier
Released April 1, 2010

It’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint the focal point of a given film because all of its elements feel so strong and complete. A truly stellar ensemble is utilized to great effect, and each of the story threads feels unique, real, and powerful. That’s definitely the case in Danish director Susanne Bier’s most recent Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, “In a Better World.” Top-notch acting, a magnificent script, and wonderful camerawork are among the aspects of “In a Better World” that make it one of the most moving, memorable, and unmissable films in recent years.

The title “In a Better World” is very fitting for its events and themes, yet it’s interesting to note that the original Danish title of the film, “Hævnen,” actually translates to “revenge,” which is an equally applicable summary of the film. The simplest way to relay the film’s plot as it is set up is to explain that it centers on two young boys with complicated family lives. Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) has just lost his mother, and his workaholic father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) is unable to provide him with the parental support and stability he desperately could use. Elias (Markus Rygaard) has to deal with his kind-hearted father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) constantly being away on a Doctors Without Borders-style program, which causes increased resentment from his mother Marianne (Trine Dyrholm). Christian’s arrival at the frequently bullied Elias’ school provides him with just the friend he needs.

It’s hard to think of another film that so brilliantly ties together its themes through the exploration of its characters’ lives. Elias contends with Christian’s violent attempts at retaliation at his bullies, while Anton is pushed around by another father in front of his children and must decide what to do in response to best teach his children. The lawless situation at Anton’s away job also provides a fascinating contrast to his life at home, and it’s impossible to convey the impact of some of the scenes in which retribution and justice are treated. This marks yet another astounding collaboration between writer Anders Thomas Jensen, who also penned the Oscar-winning 2009 short “The New Tenants” and the under-seen 2002 indie “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself,” and Bier, who previously produced the equally terrific “After the Wedding” together.

The script and the direction are both captivating, yet it’s extremely necessary to praise the bravura of the performances. There isn’t a dud in this cast, and it contains some of the most impressive child performances to date. To learn that this is the first screen role for both Nielsen and Rygaard is mind-boggling since the two turn in such believable and raw portrayals of troubled kids that manage to simultaneously convey such anguish and youthfulness. It’s good to see Thomsen, who has been relegated to playing accented bad guys in bad American movies like “The International,” take on and excel at a dramatic role, and there isn’t much matching Persbrandt, who says just as much with his haunting eyes as he does with his gravelly, booming voice. These situations and lives may be foreign, but this film provides a wondrous pathway into an entirely separate world. Equally engaging, affecting and disturbing, it’s a must-see that is without a doubt the best film of the year so far.


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