We spend so much time talking about how men are hired to direct women's stories (because men are hired to direct more movies in general) but much less time taking about how women have a much harder time getting hired to direct stories about men. Most of the women who tell stories about men do it through the indie route like Kathryn Bigelow. Danish director Susanne Bier is another. While she might be an art house director here in the states, in Europe she is considered a commercial director and her milieu is the stories of men. It is where she is most comfortable. You can learn more about Bier from an interview I did with her here.
In a Better World is a story of revenge and forgiveness. It is also a story of masculinity and the expectations of boys and men in our culture.
At the heart of the story is Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a doctor who is divided between his life running a hospital at a refugee camp in Africa and his home in Denmark, his sons and his estranged wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), who is also a doctor. His 12-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is being bullied at school and is struggling. He gets pulled under the wing of an angry new boy Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen) whose mother has just died and is out for his own type of revenge on the world. While in Africa, Anton sees horrible brutality mostly against young women and girls. He sees what men do to women just because they have power and a gun. It is a game to these men. On a trip home Anton and the boys run into an adult bully and he tries to teach the boys that violence does not solve everything. But the boys do not buy it and think he is afraid and "is not being a man." But that is not what Anton wants to teach his sons. He wants them to believe that there is a possibility to live "in a better world."
So the question Bier asks us to consider is what does it take to be a man, what does it take to forgive brutality and atrocities, and what people do when it all becomes too much.
Bier is asking us to focus on important moral questions yet the film is not one bit preachy and it is actually beautiful to watch. The contrasting shots of the light in Africa and the light in Denmark is fascinating. Bier is a top tier filmmaker and In a Better World takes her to the next level. Film opens today in NY and LA.
Check out the trailer here