Monday, May 7, 2012

Film Club Reviews #10

Terrific exploration of masculinity from Susanne Bier, the modern mistress of emotional filmmaking, the 21st century Nicholas Ray. Her films are about love in all its complicated shades, the devastation it can cause, how uncontrollable it is, how it can lead us into dangerous territory. In A Better World starts with Anton, a doctor working at a refugee camp in a dangerous African country where gangs mutilate girls and justice doesn't exist. Back home in civilised Denmark his marriage to Marianne is heading for divorce. They have two young sons, the eldest of which, ten-year-old Elias, is being bullied at school. Or he is until Christian, a new boy, defends him by threatening the bully with a knife. Christian's mother has died of cancer and he's a powderkeg of unresolved grief and resentment. When Anton stops a fight involving his younger son, the other father, a mechanic, slaps him in the face. Later he visits this man, with Elias and Christian, to show them he's not afraid. But the mechanic slaps him again, Anton refusing to respond, determined to prove he's the better man for rising above violence. But the children don't see it this way. Christian persuades Elias that if his father won't do something about this bully it's up to them to enact revenge. And so things escalate. Along the way the plot resolves itself in a somewhat contived fashion but the emotional journey earns it. These are children, after all, perilously close to destruction, and we should want them to survive. Bier and her regular screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen delight in taking soap opera plots and infusing them with authentic detail. It's a tightrope walk that doesn't always work but when it does the result is vivid and engrossing filmmaking that asks questions of us few films get close to. How do we respond when our children suffer bullying and look to us for protection, for schoolyard justice? How do men deal with violence in a civilised society, the violence they're confronted by and the violence inside themselves? What is justice without retribution? How can we defend ourselves without descending to the level of our attackers? This is acutely observed cinema, filmed with big-budget panache and impossible not to be moved by if you’re a parent, a father especially.

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