Dir: Susanne Bier. Denmark. 2010. 113mins
In A Better World is another strong entry in the cannon of intense human dramas from director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. A gripping meditation on the choices between pacificism and violence that are faced in so-called civilised society as well as extreme Third World situations, the film weaves the same tapestry of excruciating quandaries and crises for which the two collaborators have become celebrated in Open Hearts, Brothers and After The Wedding.
Bier always presents us with the most acute, out-of-the-ordinary human dilemmas.
Widely sold at the Cannes market, where a US deal was closed with Sony Pictures Classics, the film should win strong critical support and be a solid arthouse performer for its distributors along the lines of After The Wedding ($1.5m in the US, over $10m in the rest of the world).
Bier always presents us with the most acute, out-of-the-ordinary human dilemmas and dramatises them with such keen verite realism that the audience is immediately locked into the (melo)drama with no time for doubt or skepticism.
Here the set-up is characteristically agonising. Mikael Persbrandt plays Anton, a doctor who spends many months of the year working at a refugee camp in Africa when he is not living with his wife Marianne (Dyrholm) and two sons in a beautiful house in a small Danish coastal town. But the couple are teetering on divorce as a result of his infidelity and the oldest son Elias (Rygaard) is suffering at school from relentless bullying.
In the same town, newly moved from London, Claus (Thomsen) is coming to terms with his wife’s death from cancer and struggling to comfort his son Christian (Nielsen) who has become estranged and enraged at the loss of his mother.
The two families become connected when Christian defends Elias from the bullies at school and the boys become friends.Anton is a pacifist and even treats a monstrous warlord in Africa who cuts open the bellies of pregnant women for fun. So when he is struck in the face by a belligerent man in Denmark in front of the two boys, he does not strike back and walks away.
The boys however, led by Christian, determine to wreak their own revenge on the man, a mechanic called Lars (Kim Bodnia). Their plot has horrifying consequences.
If the contrivance of the plotting is more transparent than in previous Bier/Jensen films, the conviction of the performances carries the film through its clunkier machinations.
The charismatic Persbrandt is a strong anchor for the drama, moving between the beauty of the rural Danish countryside and the stark horrors of the African refugee camp but facing the same injustice in both. Bier also elicits two natural performances from the boys as well as stalwarts Dyrholm and Thomsen.
Production company: Zentropa Entertainments
International sales: TrustNordisk, www.trustnordisk.com
Executive producer: Peter Aalbaek Jensen
Producer: Sisse Graum Jorgensen
Screenplay: Anders Thomas Jensen, from a story by Susanne Bier and Jensen
Cinematography: Morten Soborg
Production designer:Peter Grant
Editors: Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm
Music: Johan Soderqvist
Main cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Markus Rygaard, William Johnk Nielsen