“There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.” - Josh Billings
It is not often that we watch a film that has the Best Film Oscar in the Academy Awards and we like the movie thus decorated. This is especially the case with the overall winners as far as the English language films are concerned. In terms of the Best Foreign Language Film given the Oscar, we seem to get slightly more satisfaction. At the weekend we watched the Susanne Bier 2010 film “In A Better World”, which took out the 2011 Oscar. We were pleasantly surprised and for once we had to agree wholeheartedly that this film really did deserve its prize. The film is a Danish/Norwegian coproduction and stars Mikael Persbrandt, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Markus Rygaard, Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dyrholm.
The plot operates on what at first glance seems to be a simple premise: Bullying at school. However, once the viewer becomes immersed in the story, the plot deepens and becomes more inclusive of a general consideration of what is violence, why do human beings become violent and what the consequences of violent acts are, even those violent acts that seem to be somehow “justifiable”. There are several subplots involving prejudice, vengeance, civil war, family relationships, death, friendship and society attitudes to a number of sensitive issues.
Anton is a doctor who lives in a small town in Denmark, but works at an African refugee camp, commuting frequently between these two places. Anton and his wife Marianne, also a doctor, have two young sons and are separated, thinking through the possibility of divorce following an incident of infidelity by Anton. Their older, ten-year-old son Elias is being bullied at school because of his Norwegian background and because he wears tooth braces. A new boy comes to the school, Christian, has just moved from London with his father, Claus. Christian’s mother recently died of cancer, and Christian is greatly troubled by her death, blaming his father. Elias and Christian quickly bond, and Elias sees in Christian a hero when he beats the school bully and threatens him with a knife. Christian bent upon revenge involves Elias in a dangerous action with potentially fatal consequences. Their friendship is tested and their lives are put in danger. Ultimately, it is their family that guide them through the complexity of human interactions, conflict, violence, vengeance, forgiveness, trust and ultimately what it means to be human and what it means to be a man.
Although the acting in this film was outstanding, the acting honours definitely had to go to the two children playing the two schoolfriends, Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) and Elias (Markus Rygaard). The two youngsters cope with a raft of sensitive scenes and issues and the direction is faultless, making their performances shine through each difficult scene in a manner that is convincing and utterly realistic. The adult actors are a perfect counterfoil to the children and provide the ideal framework on which the children’s story of self discovery and growth is built. The film takes place in two contrasting locations developing Africa and Denmark, but the action in each locale complements the story perfectly and the two widely differing series of events are merely counterpointing the themes that run commonly between them. The music score by Johan Söderqvist is perfect for the movie and the cinematography by Morten Søborg excellent.
This was a challenging and confronting film, all the more because of the involvement of children in situations that test even many adults. It is a poignant and melancholy, but through its ending manages to lift one’s spirit up and the viewer manages to regain some confidence in humanity. Please see this film, it’s excellent!