Greetings again from the darkness. As is customary, the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film finally makes it to Dallas in April, AFTER the awards show is long forgotten (well, except for the half-assed hosting job by James Franco). Denmark’s entry, directed by Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire), is overflowing with every human emotion one can imagine. However, the battle between two specific emotions is most prevalent: misplaced revenge and forgiveness.
At it’s core, this is a story of two fathers and two sons. The presentation is quite odd in that it tries desperately to tie in all spectrum of human emotion and economic standing. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt from the excellent 2008 Everlasting Moments) travels back and forth between an African refugee camp where he serves as a doctor, and his upscale Denmark home where he is separated from his wife and trying to set a good example for his son Elias (Markus Rygaard).
The other father is Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) whose relationship with his son Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) is flat out terrible. Christian’s mother recently lost her battle with cancer and it has caused a rift between these two … and lit one heck of a fire of anger in young Christian.
Soon enough Christian stumbles upon Elias being bullied at school. His flaming temper sets the bully straight with a violent act, creating a bond between Elias and Christian. Sadly Christian continues to spin off axis and he drags Elias along.
As a doctor in the camp, Anton constantly strives to repair the truly despicable acts of the local town bully. This is used to contrast with what’s going on with his own son at home. There are many parts of the film that are difficult to watch, especially as Christian just loses his grip on reality.
While I certainly see the excellence in the film, I believe the filmmakers tried too hard to stage the contrast. The story of the boys was plenty powerful enough to carry a film. Also, the doctor in the camp could have made a chilling movie on it’s own. Instead we gets bits of each and that’s fine … just not what it might have been.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you just haven’t seen enough struggling marriages or lousy father-son relationships OR you would like to witness what may be the longest list of human emotions ever seen in one film
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe horrible acts of human nature should be confined to the local and national news and that movies are purely for entertainment purposes.