In a Better World
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 20th February 2011.
Danish director Susanne Bier’s engaging depiction of family drama falls into the school of “seemingly effortless filmmaking”. As evidenced in Brothers and After the Wedding (the latter showcasing Mads Mikkelsen’s dramatic talent without blood-weeping eye), she excels at casting watchable, accessible actors in multi-dimensional roles, and having them face challenges the audience can identify with.
Bier’s latest film (up for Best Foreign Film Oscar) once again involves families wracked by personal tragedy and forced to grapple with moral dilemmas. In a Better World pits a well-meaning doctor who is risking his marriage in order to save lives in Africa, against petty (and not-so-petty) bullying to which he would rather turn the other cheek. His gracious attitude is however complicated by the fact his son Elias is being bullied, and Elias’ new best friend Christian, battling his own demons, is more the avenging type.
Boys may well be boys, but it is the emotionally damaged ones our hearts go out to, as we watch in horror the particular game they have afoot. In a Better World possibly refers to the ideal of a life where children and adults alike are not bound to learn harsh lessons and suffer emotional pain. But it also unwittingly evokes a world where this superior class of film-making is simply the standard.