It’s been six months since this involving Danish drama swung by the Oscars on its way to our shores, stopping to whisk away the Best Foreign Language statuette. On its journey it also nabbed a new English title – preferring In A Better World over the original translated Revenge – and scooped further accolades across the globe. So what’s all the fuss about?
Directed by Susanne Bier (whose Brothers was remade with Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal in 2009), A Better World follows Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a Swedish doctor who travels between Denmark – where his ex-wife and two sons live – and a Sudanese refugee camp where he treats the victims of a demented war lord. Meanwhile, Anton’s 12-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) befriends Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen). Christian’s recently lost his mother to cancer, and ends up being a destructive, dangerous new force in Elias’ life.
Unflinchingly direct, A Better World wrestles expansive themes in a typically Scandinavian way – by confidently striking right at the heart of the matter. Certain things will always be lost in translation. English-speaking viewers, for example, will miss out on the fact that Anton only ever speaks Swedish while in Denmark, which only serves to maximise his dislocation from the condemning Danes around him.
However, A Better World remains heartbreakingly affecting because it grapples with universal themes that transcend language. What is it to be a man? A father? A worker? Bier dodges right and wrong in favour of searching questions – questions that Persbrandt tackles head on with a rough and ready performance. At times the director’s philosophical posturing leans a little too close to melodrama, but with its refusal of easy answers, A Better World remains a daringly robust drama. The kudos is well earned. 4/5
Via Out In The City.