[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B005K8IOUU][/pullquote] Winner of Best Foreign Language film at the 83rd Academy Awards in February, In a Better World has only just arrived in UK cinemas. In a Better World is something of a ensemble piece, but there a two main focuses; Anton, a middle-aged doctor who splits his time between Africa and Denmark, and the friendship between Anton’s son, Elias and Christian, a boy who is coming to terms with the loss of his mother from cancer.
Right from the start, it’s clear that In a Better World is a film that has ‘Something To Say’ “ specifically about bullying and power relationships, about how we tell children to deal with these things, and how we deal with them ourselves as adults. Is it better to strike back hard and quickly to prevent escalation, or to try to rise above it as a violent response will only create a cycle of violence? The problem with this though, is that it often feels like the characters are simply devices to explore these themes rather people we can believe in and care about.
Early in In a Better World, a situation is set up where Elias is being bullied at school and we see how he deals with it, with the help of Christian “ an act of violence forming a bond between the boys. Then, conveniently enough, Anton finds himself in a similar situation when, after an argument, a stranger slaps him. Will he practice what he preached about not striking back to his son?
Anton then returns to his work as a medic at a camp in Africa “ where he has to deal again with something similar, but on a far larger and more brutal scale. Again, his response is tested. It’s difficult for the audience to accept that these situations have occurred naturally to this set of characters. It feels very much like a contrivance so that the film can make the points and raise the questions that it seeks to.
Despite these problems, about three quarters of the way through the film, it does arrive somewhere interesting – with some genuinely powerful, shocking and thought-provoking scenes. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t end here. Having set up a number of characters, it seems to feel compelled to see the all threads of the story through to the bitter end, but there’s no strong sense that anyone had a clear idea of how the stories should tie up, so the film meanders towards its conclusion with a number of scenes that don’t feel at all necessary.
This film is ultimately a disappointment and doesn’t have enough quality to live up to the expectation that its Oscar win inevitably brought. It’s hard to put aside the thought that this is exactly the kind of thing that awards judges go for “ it’s a handsome film with some beautiful scenes (and there really are some beautiful scenes), and is clearly well-crafted. It’s serious minded and wants to deal with issues.