In a Better World

Founded in Denmark


01 April 2011| No Comments on In a Better World     by Sean Chavel


An intelligently told multi-faceted story. In a Better World, this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, gets into some brilliant and heartrending territory by streamlining a story that extends from an African refugee camp to an idyllic small town in Denmark. The camerawork is active, not stodgy, as is always the case with Susanne Bier (she directed “After the Wedding,” her other big award winner from 2006). In Africa, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt, “Everlasting Moments”) is a humanitarian doctor providing relief to the impoverished people of the camps who have survived through much bloodshed. At home, his wife is estranged and untrusting of him and on top of that his son is bullied at school.

Injustices mirror each other abroad and at home, but whatever the discrimination is, Anton turns the other cheek. He has one admitted failure at morality, in that he cheated on his wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm, “The Celebration”) which led to separation. Anton is a tall burly man who can take a hit, physically or emotionally. What he may not understand is that the hits his son takes at school really do hurt!

The doctor’s son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is friendless until he meets new student Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) who will stick up for him, and pull out a knife against a ringleader bully on his behalf – thus landing them before the disciplinarian board of their middle school. Apologies are made, but Christian – an inconsolable anger case – is always looking for revenge on the mean and ignorant. Christian’s widowed father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen, also “The Celebration”) practices non-pressuring paternity, and attempts to reason with and respect his son’s actions as if he were a grown up.

Anton and Marianne get familiar with their new son’s friend Christian, and they become second family to the young boy. On an outing, Anton gets bullied by a meathead mechanic without civil mores. Anton shows the boys that he can take a slap, not be afraid, and walk away with dignity. This is an unlearned lesson, as Christian now craves revenge for Anton’s sake. By random convenience of discovering his dead grandfather’s weapons stash, he experiments with bomb-making. Elias, a sweet child, knows that he shouldn’t be playing around with knives and bombs but also doesn’t want to lose his only friend.

Journeying back to Kenya, Anton has to confront the ethical challenge of whether to treat a warlord whose leg is gnashed and infested with parasites. Every man deserves fair treatment and kindness no matter how terrible their wrong-doings, Anton believes, but makes it clear that this warlord is not a friend but just a patient.

The father abides to pacifism but is unaware of how neck-deep his own child is with the misguided vengeance influenced by schoolmate Christian. Lines of communication are messed up between parents and their children, exchanged words often misinterpreted, and intentions troubled and intensified. Anton, at work and at home, tirelessly has to negotiate with others whom have been overcome with irrational, violent instincts.

Filmmaker Bier unceasingly leaves me impressed because there is a sense that she is a world traveler capable of creating an authentic story set anywhere. Lots of her best instincts have to do with her chosen locations. But the populated characters are remarkably well attuned to these locations – they don’t feel like actor “figures” flown in. The one boy does look a little too sociopathic in the eyes – the acting didn’t have to lay it on so thick. Even though it’s a film about mishaps and misdeeds, there remains something beautiful and even life-embracing in how the fallen can be redeemed by a new light of wisdom.

113 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979); “Breaking the Waves” (1996, Denmark); “A Celebration” (1998, Denmark); “After the Wedding” (2oo6, Denmark).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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