Sony Pictures Classics
April 15, 2011
R; 1:53 running time
Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier has a potent gift for turning abstract, moral questions into edge-of-your-seat compelling dramas that examine, with devastating effect, the complex web of feelings that make us who we are. With "In A Better World," which deservedly won this year's best foreign language Oscar, she has outdone even herself.
"Better World" opens in a bleak, inhospitable refugee camp in Africa, where Anton (Mikael Persbrandt of Jan Troell's "Everlasting Moments") is exhausted physically and emotionally by his work as a doctor. As if the usual depredations of disease weren't hard enough to deal with, Anton has to try to save the lives of pregnant young women who are cut open by a sadistic local warlord given to making bets on the sex of unborn children. Anton commutes between Africa and his home in Denmark, where his marriage to Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), also a doctor, is falling apart. The separation is especially hard on 10-year-old Elias (Markus Rygaard), a sweet-faced boy whose passivity inevitably attracts the bullies in his school. There's another family going through their own drama who intersect with Anton and his family. The director is successful in comparing and contrasting the moral worlds of children and adults, showing how difficult but essential it is for each group to learn from the other. It's as if the differing age groups speak different languages. The nuances of behavior that mean so much to adults don't resonate with children, while the burning intensity the children feel doesn't register at all with their parents. It's a dissonance that can have disastrous consequences, and "In a Better World" plays that powerfully disturbing outcome for all it's worth.
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