Monday, October 31, 2011


This 2010 Danish film By Susanne Bier, which hauled in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film & had been on my “list” for some time, is as good as I’d hoped. It essentially concerns itself with male violence, the innate urge to express that violence, and the societal or humanized urge to suppress it. At another and slightly more melodramatic level, it’s about how devastating the death of a parent can be. If you’ve guessed that this is not a screwball comedy – you’re right. It follows two overlapping stories: one, a depressed, recently-divorced, hardworking doctor trying to balance life with his sons back in Denmark and his role as a caregiver in war-torn, sub-Saharan Africa. The other story is about a teenager’s loss of his mother to cancer, and its effect on his relationship with his father, his schoolmates & everyone around him. Violence comes both suddenly and over time in this film, and how the characters react to it is the core of the story.

Certain scenes are absolutely searing. In one, the doctor is forced to treat a brutal African warlord with a gangrenous, rotting leg – despite that same warlord having personally killed or maimed pregnant women that the doctor has recently rescued. The pain on this man’s face as he decides whether or not to lash out at this warlord or help him – particularly after a similar experience he’s faced up to in Denmark in previous scenes – is incredibly moving. The grieving young man who plays the budding pyromaniac Christian is also excellent at conveying a stony, silent, embittered teenager completely unable to talk with his confused father about his bottled-up rage. While that story was a little more paint-by-numbers than the other, it still provided a lot of color to Bier’s theme of “men grappling with inner violence”. Finally, I was excited to see the actor Ulrich Thomson play the latter’s father – it’s the guy from “The Celebration”! (Easily my favorite non-Bergman Scandinavian film of all time and a film I need to see at least two more times).

Susanne Bier directed a terrific drama in 2006 called “AFTER THE WEDDING”, and I’d have a hard time choosing that better film between that and this one. Oh, and while we’re discussing recent Scando film, let me put in a plug for a phenomenal 2006 Norwegian film that didn’t get a lot of eyeballs in the US but which I’ve seen two times & would see again anytime: “REPRISE”. I’ll let you read about it, but it’s easily the equal of the two we’re discussing here. Those of you hanging on by your fingernails to your Netflix queues – now you’ve got some doozies to add to it.