March 22, 2011
"In a Better World" by Susanne Bier from Denmark has won both the Golden Globe and later, the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It has done so over much more high-profile films like "Biutiful" from Mexico. My friend from Denmark has not seen it yet, but she told me that Ms. Bier is known for films about relationships. And this one is certainly no different.
The film follows the relationship of two confused pre-teen Danish boys. Christian's mother just died from cancer and he is angry at his dad for letting her go. He is the type who would not simply turn the other cheek in a conflict. Elias is the kid bullies like to pick on in school. His parents, who were both doctors, were in the process of divorce, which distresses him. Elias' dad works as a volunteer doctor in Africa, and this gives the film an extra dimension to work with.
The actual Danish title of this film is "Haevnen" which translates to "revenge." This is exactly what this film is all about. From the more familiar revenge on a bully at school to revenge in several other permutations in different situations in life are depicted here. There are several situations when you can effectively feel the tension of the characters in the events as they unfold on screen. Ms. Bier excels in building up the drama in the situations she has presented us, as vengeance ultimately leads to inevitable consequences.
I have not yet seen any of the other nominees yet so I could not really say if this was the best of them. All I can say is that this family melodrama was well done. The inter-crossing of the stories was done very effectively with suspense and sensitivity. The film is long (almost 2 hrs) and slow, but it is riveting. However, you can't completely shake the feeling that the conflicts you are seeing in "In a Better World" are all familiar situations that we probably have all seen before in various other films -- just better presented. And that is the thing that sets it apart.