When In a Better World
took the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 2010, it counted as a mild upset… but only because the movie hadn't opened in the United States yet. Anybody who actually sees the film won't be at all surprised at its acclaim, and this emotional powerhouse is nothing if not exactly the kind of movie that wins Oscars. The subject is ambitious: how eye-for-an-eye violence takes root, whether the setting is a Danish neighborhood or global politics. Two bullied boys (a cowering Markus Rygaard and a furious William Jøhnk Nielsen) are not only fed up with a violent tormentor at school, they're also disgusted with an adult blowhard, whose size does not intimidate them. The father (an excellent Mikael Pesrbrandt) of the weaker boy has tried to set an example by turning the other cheek toward the local creep, a virtue he has perfected after completing his regular medical service in a chaotic African country ruled by warlords who carry out appalling atrocities and then expect medical treatment themselves. Meanwhile, the doctor's estranged wife (Trine Dyrholm) resists his attempts at reconciliation, while getting to know the other boy's distracted father (Ulrich Thomsen). Director Susanne Bier (Brothers
) and the amazingly prolific screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen are serious and accomplished; this film is rendered with great care and each new strand of the plot is thought out and carefully placed. Maybe, if anything, slightly too carefully placed--the story is so neatly plotted and balanced it comes close to being a closed system, a piece to admire if not to get greatly excited by. Still, this kind of old-school humanistic approach is welcome, and the film is skillfully made. --Robert Horton
A provocative film that explores the difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness, In a Better World
follows two Danish families and the unusual and dangerous friendship that develops between them. Bullied at school, Elias is defended by Christian, a boy greatly troubled over his mother’s death. So when the two become involved in an act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences, it’s their parents who are left to help them come to terms with the complexity of human emotions, pain and empathy in this 2010 Academy Award® and Golden Globe® winner for Best Foreign Film.