Half way through In a Better World, I started to look at my watch – not because I was bored but because I was dreading of what would happen next in the movie. I was pretty tense, torn between curiosity and fear about the looming disaster. I suppose I can be such a wuss sometimes.
The movie, directed by Susanne Bier, skillfully weaves through stories of restrained love as well as contrasting peace and meekness with the show of power and revenge. The film is opened with the scene of an African refugee camp with a Swedish doctor helping and operating numerous patients – some are pregnant ladies who are cut opened by a local warlord who bets on the gender of the unborn baby. The doctor, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), is pictured as a pacifist – having to deal with war and crisis constantly. In the meanwhile, back in Denmark, his estranged wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) has to take care of their two sons, one of which – Elias (Markus Rygaard) – is bullied by the local boys for having uneven teeth and for having a Swedish father.
Things change when a boy, Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) moves to Denmark to be with his father and grandma after his mother died. Having a deep-seated anger, he defends Elias and hits the bully at school. One day Christian and Elias witness Anton being slapped by a local man and when Anton refuses to retaliate, the boys, spearheaded by Christian, plan a major revenge which unfortunately causes a major consequence.
Susanne poses a lot of philosophical questions in the movie about peace and power. Is giving your other cheek truly seen as your victory by the one who strikes – that you rise beyond the striker? Or is it seen as weakness and cowardice? When Anton is confronted by the warlord who needs his help – should he actually help and heal him, knowing that he will help perpetuate the misery to the local population? So many difficult questions to answer but Susanne doesn’t allow them to overwhelm – only leaving some footprints in the viewers’ mind, to be pondered long after the movie ends.
In a Better World won the 2011 Golden Globe Award for the Best Foreign Language Film, and I am not surprised at all. It is a powerful movie that infuses some global politics into a story that is full of restraint and tension. This is my first selection for the 2011 Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival – a very satisfactory choice indeed.