In A Better World

14 Mar

Director: Susanne Bier (2010)

Sailing on the success of receiving the worthy accolade of Best Foreign Language Film at two of the biggest events in the filmic calendar, the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, Susanne Bier’s In A Better World received its UK premiere yesterday as part of the Birds Eye View Film Festival 2011, taking place in London until 18th March. BEV celebrates the work of female film directors and screenwriters, working to prove the statistic that only 6% of directors are female is frankly preposterous considering the wealth of female directorial talent that too often find itself looked over. But this time, not Susanne Bier.

Split between a refugee camp in Africa and a small-town in Denmark, In A Better World uses one man’s experiences in these two different worlds to explore the concept of revenge and our human ability to forgive in face of monstrosity.

Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor who spends his time commuting between the horrors of a Sudanese refugee camp and the seemingly comparative bliss of familial life with two young sons and his wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm). However his son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), is troubled; alone and hounded by bullies at school until things begin to look up when he finally makes a friend in the shape of Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) who recently moved from London with his father after the death of his mother. The two boys become friends with shy Elias following Christian’s lead – that is until Christian’s own aspirations for revenge take over after witnessing Elias’ father Anton assaulted by a random man, with dire circumstances.

In A Better World is a graceful yet challenging watch, asking its audience to consider the complexity of human relationships and emotions but also, how morality, something which should be a relative constant, can so easily waver depending on the situations. The scenes of violence and fear in Africa, while so far removed from the beauty of Anton’s idyllic Danish retreat, remain in the forefront of our minds as we likewise see the dangers of violence on his home turf. Is some more violence more acceptable? Can some violence be forgiven? Big questions but ones that Bier fearlessly tackles – and all the more poignantly by exploding childhood quarrels with graphic violence, side by side with war crimes.

Persbrandt’s calm portrayal of Anton, much to the initial dismay of Christian, exemplifies Bier’s ultimate message, namely the futile perpetuation of violence in our society. Avoiding the clichés which could have come easily surfaced through hints of the problems in Anton and Marianne’s message, their underlying turbulence works to highlight his humanity and perhaps the increasing importance to remember our humanity in the face of evil and violence.

A poignant and beautifully shot film, In A Better World meditates on those choices we pray we will never have to make while demonstrating the world of the pacifist and the violent are not always as far removed as we might think…

To use the unavoidable pun, ‘In A Better World’, more female directors would be prepared to take such risks and create stunning cinema such as this. Maybe next year the percentage of female directors will be that bit higher…

The Birds Eye View Film Festival continues until 17th March at London’s BFI and ICA. Visit their website for more details and for full programme.

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