The eighty-third Academy Awards are fresh off the red carpet, and they quite rightly awarded the 'Best Foreign Language Film' statuette to the Danish entry, 'In a Better World'. In Australia, Denmark's best known contribution to film and television is probably crime drama, with relative successes in shows such as 'Unit One' and the outstanding 'The Killing'. However, 'In a Better World' amply demonstrates that the Danish film industry is no one trick pony.
The film follows two boys, aged somewhere between the ten to thirteen mark, and their parents. Christian's (William Jøhnk Nielsen) mother has just died after a drawn out battle with cancer, leading his father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) to uproot him from London to his native Denmark. This isn't the first time that Christian has had to re-establish himself abroad, leaving him well versed in schoolyard etiquette. He quickly befriends Elias (Markus Rygaard), the local school bully victim, after he asserts his social credentials in a violent confrontation with the head bully. Although his actions are effective in the playground, they are universally condemned by adults.
To reveal anymore of the plot of 'In a Better World' would flatten the experience of the film, although the original Danish title of 'Revenge' is both an accurate and deceptive hint. Suffice to say that it at no point rests on its laurels; it unfolds steadily so that the viewer is kept in alert anticipation throughout. 'In a Better World' grapples with issues of violence, anger, morality and the contextual implications that influence the consequences of actions that are taken by individuals. The film's major strength lies in its perfectly crafted ambiguity. At no point does it try to deliver a clear cut answer to the questions it poses, with new perspectives offered at each moment before being siphoned off by the next. It's a film that respects the intelligence of its audience, leaving people to draw their own conclusions from the threads it offers.
In a Better World' is also a master of European aesthetics. It exudes a clear natural light that is both stark and flattering; the people onscreen are real and relatable. Littered throughout are scenes of contrasting natural landscapes, dust laden deserts and crisp Danish fields and seasides, bordering on arthouse clichés. However, the film manages to get away with these small breathing spaces due to the heaviness of the subject matter. The acting is universally good, with a particularly stunning performance by newcomer William Jøhnk Nielsen, who bears a striking similarity to a young Christian Bale and portrays a complexity of feeling that eludes many adult actors.