After losing electricity on Sunday — along with a few million of my East Coast neighbors — I had enough battery power stored in my portable DVD player to watch one movie.
Should it be a fun escapist flick from my collection — “Road House” anyone? — or something important that I hadn’t seen yet?
I opted for the latter, pulling out an advance screener of “In a Better World” (Sony Pictures Classics) which won the Oscar for best foreign language film last winter and will be released on home video today.
It was a good choice — a very fine domestic drama from Denmark about two troubled families that are brought together by their disturbed adolescent boys.
Writer-director Susanne Bier gives the story a broader view of the world by making one of her characters — Anton (Mikael Persbrandt, above) — a doctor who flies to Africa on a regular basis to help out in the most dire political and social environments.
Anton’s work has caused his marriage to Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) to collapse, leaving their son Elias (Markus Rygaard) feeling like he’s on his own much of the time.
Elias is picked on by his schoolmates because of his prominent teeth — they call him “Rat Face” — and is befriended by new student Christian (William Johnk Nielsen, below left) who is a seething cauldron of anger and retribution in the aftermath of his mother’s cancer death.
Christian helps Elias plot revenge against his tormenters — a pact which begins to have increasingly violent repercussions.
The darkness of the movie’s portrait of adolescent anger is what separates it from the standard Hollywood treatment of this kind of material. The way that the two boys fuel each other’s resentments is reminiscent of that disturbring folie a deux relationship between Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire in the Ruth Rendell adaptation “La Ceremonie.” Alone the boys probably wouldn’t act out so much — together they are a potentially deadly combination.
The contrast between the domestic events in Denmark and the horrors we see in Africa is handled more subtly that you might imagine. In her director’s statement, Bier wrote that her goal was “to explore the limitations we encounter in trying to control our society as well as our personal lives.”
The film is designed to ask “whether our own ‘advanced’ culture is the model for a better world, or whether the same disarray found in (Africa) is lurking beneath the surface of our civilization. Are we immune to chaos, or obliviously teetering on the verge of disorder?”
The movie and its questions put the relatively minor Irene disruptions I faced into perspective.