In a Better World

The Danish film, In a Better World, directed by Suzanne Bier, was awarded this year’s Oscar for best foreign language film. However, in all honesty I must say that I was not all that impressed by it. (I thought Biutiful was a better film.) Although I liked some of the early scenes, I ultimately found it disappointing.

Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a Swedish doctor who does volunteer work in a Sudanese refugee camp. He is estranged from his Danish wife, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm). She lives with their son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), in a small village in Denmark. Elias is bullied by some of his classmates. A new student, Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) arrives, and he immediately takes sides with Elias. He severely beats one of the bullies and threatens him with a knife. The bullying then stops. This convinces Christian that the way to deal with conflicts is to use force. He and Elias later see Anton get into an argument with Lars (Kim Bodnia). When Lars slaps Anton, the latter refuses to hit back, because he is a pacifist. Christian then decides to build a bomb and blow up Lars’s van, to teach him a lesson. He persuades Elias to help him. However, Elias is injured in the blast.

This film’s central conflicts are resolved in a manner that struck me as too familiar and contrived. I actually began to feel as though I were watching one of those After School Specials that they used to show on TV when I was growing up. It ends up being just another story about mixed-up adolescents. This was a comedown, because the early scenes seem to promise something more than this.

This film has a subplot that takes place in Africa. The refugees are terrorized by a local warlord, who commits shocking crimes. One day, he shows up in the camp and demands that Anton treat his wounded leg. This could have been an interesting dramatic situation. Unfortunately, the warlord is such a cartoonish character that he simply isn’t convincing. These African scenes are apparently meant to serve as a dramatic counterpoint to the scenes in Denmark, but they end up being merely a distraction.

All in all, a disappointing film.

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