In a Better World shows a father become a peacemaker as he helps youth at risk. Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier directs.
Oscar, Golden Globe winner
Named Best Foreign Language Film by the Academy and Golden Globe awards, this rich, mature drama explores violence, courage and responsibility.
Bier is known for complex masterpieces including Open Hearts (2002), Brothers (2004) and After the Wedding (2006). This is her tenth feature.
Mikael Persbrandt (Everlasting Moments) stars as Anton, a surgeon working in a Kenyan field hospital. While he treats refugees, he’s interrupted by bloody emergencies as a local thug, Big Man, butchers pregnant women for sport.
Facing a bully
Anton struggles to rescue his marriage to Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), also a doctor, who lives in Denmark with their two sons. Often away from home, Anton spends quality time whenever possible with 10-year-old Elias (Markus Rygaard), a gentle boy who wears braces.
Elias is viciously bullied at school by Sofus (Simon Maagaard Holm) and his followers, who make anti-Swedish comments. School officials misread the dangerous situation and seem unable to take effective action.
Anton urges his son to ignore Sofus. Fighting would accomplish nothing except to lower him to the bully’s level, he says.
Meeting a protector
Elias is befriended by Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), a quiet, intense boy who moves to the area after his mother dies of cancer. Christian advises Elias to fight back so others won’t dare pick on him.
Christian corners Sofus in a school bathroom one day, beating him with a bicycle pump and holding a knife to his throat. Horrified Elias looks on. Police are called, but charges are dropped when they are unable to find the knife.
It’s attack or be attacked, Christian tells his father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen). He accuses the man of wanting his mother to die. Claus tries to explain his complex emotions during his wife’s painful decline.
At the park one day, Anton breaks up a fight between a boy and his youngest son as Elias and Christian watch. Suddenly Anton is insulted and slapped by the boy’s father Lars (Kim Bodnia).
Anton walks away and attempts to forgive. He swims off his anger later in the cold lake of his summer home.
Elias asks his dad why he is such a wimp. Anton next tries to craft a teachable moment, revisiting Lars with the boys. He speaks out and is slapped again.
Christian builds a pipe bomb using internet instructions, planning to blow up Lars’ van. Outwardly calm and serious, he urges Elias to accompany him. The explosion will happen early Sunday and no one will be hurt, he promises. Reluctantly, Elias agrees.
Back in Kenya, Big Man has been seriously wounded and is brought to the hospital. The warlord orders Anton to save his leg, and offers him a bribe.
The surgeon treats him because he must. When villagers take matters into their own hands, Anton is a helpless witness.
A flawed man struggling to live his truth, Anton chooses peace and surrenders the satisfaction of being right. He can’t change the world, but he can be present and loving.
Caring for all children
In a Better World suggests that all children belong to us. Bier skillfully manages many story elements to craft a majestic film.
Morton Soborg provides stunning camerawork. Screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, composer Johan Soderqvist and editor Pernille Bech Christensen lend their talents. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like In a Better World, you might enjoy: Win Win; Terri.
In a Better World 2010 / R / 1 hour, 53 min
Cast Overview: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Markus Rygaard, William Johnk Nielsen, Bodil Jorgensen, Elsebeth Steentoft, Martin Buch, Anette Stovlebaek, Kim Bodnia
Director: Susanne Bier
Genre: Drama, Thriller, World Cinema
Language: Danish and Swedish with English subtitles