Monday, September 5, 2011

In a Better World

Susanne Bier, Denmark, 2010 (8.6*)
Best Foreign Language Film (AA, GG)

Bier finally got a well-deserved Oscar® for foreign language film for this one about a doctor who shares his time between a refugee hospital in Africa and his family life in Denmark. Bier excels at paring away the surface of complex psychogical relationshiops between family members. Her earlier films After the Wedding,  (2006), which also had a Danish man volunteering to help the needy (in that case orphans in Mumbai, India), and Brothers (2004, about a husband that goes missing in the Afghanistan war and whose brother begins to take his place at home) were excellent works of art about intra-family relationships and self-discovery. I thought both deserved this long overdue award for her.

In this story, the horrors of Africa are at least partially offset by finding romance back in Denmark, when Anton, played by Mikael Persbrandt, newly separated, becomes interested in the divorced mother of one of his son’s schoolmates. The two boys become good friends first, when Anton’s son, new at school, comes to the aid of a boy targeted by bullies.

The film starts slowly but subtly escalates into some unforseeen territory, especially the story involving the boys. A little schoolyard bullying is just a prelude to more dramatic events. The adults in Bier’s films often have their lives shaped and affected by their children, and their own plans and designs become secondary to the immediate reality of being involved in the lives of others through being a parent. In most of her stories, the well-being of the group as a whole outweighs the desires of the individuals.

These are intelligent adult dramas in which there are no pat answers or typically ‘Hollywood’ solutions, which often means that two people agree they are in love then all the other problems magically disappear, film over. Bier is arguably the best woman director in the world right now (ok, I’ll say top three with India’s Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair), and her films never provide easy outs to complex stories, but rather require huge emotional commitment on the part of her characters to face life’s challenges head on.

In a Better World won 5 awards out of 13 nominations, not as many as her earlier films. For those who haven’t seen her work, I’d start with Brothers (13 awards), and the original not the U.S. remake, and then After the Wedding (9 awards), which I think is a masterpiece.

Susanne Bier


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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