At the Academy Awards this year, the beautiful and incredibly intelligent Susanne Bier picked up the Best Foreign-Language Film award, so the expectations for this film were obviously fairly high when we walked into the cinema. After an insightful question and answer session, we were straight into this extraordinary and exceptional work of art.
In A Better World takes place in two locations – a drab and dangerous refugee camp in Sudan (but actually filmed in Kenya), and a grey and humdrum provincial town in Denmark. The lives of two Danish families cross each other, and an extraordinary, but risky and explosive friendship is born. However, frailty, loneliness, and sorrow are right around the corner! Almost as quickly as the friendship begins, it transforms into a dangerous alliance and so begins a breathtaking pursuit in which lives are at stake.
Young, intelligent, yet very unstable Christian moves back to Denmark with this grieving and incredibly withdrawn father, after the tragic loss of his mum to cancer. When he sees another boy, the braces wearing, nerdy-looking Elias being bullied in the school grounds of his new school, he decides to stand up against the much bigger kid, and show him who’s boss. Fuelled by the feeling that his father gave up on his dying mother, Christian makes the conscious decision to never give up, and to stand up for what he believes is right and wrong.
Elisa’s own father, Anton is having his own bullying problems. A doctor working on a humanitarian mission in a war-torn African nation – he is faced with a moral dilemma when he is given the option to operate on a gang-lord who is one of the reasons why there are so many patients at the make-shift hospital. To add to the frustration, weary of Anton’s frequent absences, Elias’s mother Marianne, has initiated divorce proceedings.
Drawn together through a shared feeling of betrayal and abandonment, Christian and Elias began striking out in an almost vigilante manner, against town bully’s in increasingly disturbing and violent ways.
This movie is incredibly powerful – and absolutely faultless (in my humble opinion). The characters within the film are so multifaceted, with so many different layers of emotion, and with such detailed and intricate back-stories – perfectly cast, with tremendous performances from each and every actor. Each of the characters are damaged in some way, and Susanne carefully reveals more and more floors as the film progresses. She explores many issues in this film, especially the fact that it’s in man’s very instinct to fight when threatened.
There is an incredible scene in which Anton is being bullied in front of Elias and Christian by a massive fiery auto-repair mechanic, in which he refuses to defend or avenge himself – explaining to the children that’s he’s just a coward bully, who’s only means of retaliation is to fight – however the kids don’t see it that way.
This is one of those films that makes you think to yourself – how would I react in this situation? How would I get out of this fight without throwing punches? How can you deal with other humans who ignore all logic and reasonable negotiation and simply rule with the power of their guns. How do you stand up against school yard bullies when you’re seriously out-numbered, and there are no teachers you can turn to? How do you deal with bullies without becoming a bully yourself?
This is one powerful film that doesn’t necessarily answer many questions – but more, inspires the audience to ask themselves – what would you do? Like films such as Crash – the story intertwines between characters and locations with ease, and not once do you feel confused as to where you are sitting within the story. It looks incredible – has an eerie, yet beautiful sound-scape, and honestly keeps you at the edge of your sit for the entire duration of the film. I can definitely see what this film has picked up so many awards – as it really is a powerful masterpiece that will stick in your mind for a very long time. Highly recommended!