FILM: IN A BETTER WORLD (DON’T PANIC AUGUST 2011)
Still glittering from its golden Oscar and Golden Globe wins for Best Foreign Language Film 2010, In A Better World is a gripping Danish drama exploring the themes of justice, forgiveness and masculine violence within suburban Denmark and an African refugee camp. We talk to director Susanne Bier to find out more.
I understand that you and [writer] Anders Thomas Jensen wanted to make a film challenging the common perception of Denmark as a peaceful, harmonious country – is that the case?
That’s correct, yes. There’s this notion that we’re extremely peaceful, and removed from anything bad happening in the world – that we can pretend it’s of no concern to us. We wanted to address that. As human beings, we are much more similar than we are different.
With the narrative focus on Denmark, why choose to juxtapose events with such a starkly contrasting environment as Africa?
It has to do with wanting to show the physical differences, but also the emotional similarities. The evil [warlord] in Africa is not all that different from the evil person in Denmark, who owns the car repair service – but with circumstances being so different, he’s less challenged; he’s got more scope to unfold his atrocities. And then there’s the boy Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen), who could become this horrible person – but because he is met with compassion, there is hope for him.
The movie addresses the desire for revenge, as a way of readjusting a sense of justice – but in reality, forgiveness works better. Of course, not everything will be forgiven; even the doctor (Mikael Persbrandt) has a breaking point, but the current of the story is that the only hope has to do with forgiveness.
What was it like shooting across the two settings?
Super strenuous in Africa, with the physical difficulty of having this extremely fine sand everywhere! We had to stop every half hour and clean all the equipment.
Recently, the UK has been affected by rioting, largely by young boys and adolescents. As the film examines how easy it is to break those barriers of civility and fall into violence, can the two be related, in that sense?
What can be related to the film is group pressure, especially to the kids in the schoolyard [who bully protagonist Elias]. The way you can hide in a group and almost have a cover in terms of your moral values… that’s very relatable. The riots blew up and kids got involved because they were part of a group, and felt at liberty to not behave as decent human beings, which is super frightening, especially when you think of England as a pretty orderly environment.
I suppose that echoes the idea behind IABW – how people anywhere, even in a place as supposedly composed as Denmark, can quickly degenerate.
Exactly! We’d like to think that it only concerns far-away places. When we’re faced with it in our immediate closeness, it’s a shock and a real wake-up call in terms of addressing those issues.
Aesthetically speaking, the film contains a great deal of natural beauty – not just with Denmark, but also in its depiction of the harsh African terrain. What were your intentions there?
The beauty of the landscape was extremely important. I don’t automatically think that everything has to look beautiful; in certain stories, starkness or rawness might be better. Because this story is so raw in its core, it needed a sense of beauty – and also a sense of beauty in its intrinsic sense of loss. That sense of loss has to do with the beauty of the landscape… this might sound very abstract, but those were my instincts.
Ultimately, what do you want audiences to take away from In A Better World?
I want them to think about the issues. I want them to go and discuss the issues. I want them to think about how they feel about revenge, forgiveness, and how easy it is to overstep that border. I don’t want to have answers – I really want to have questions.
Interview: Charlotte McManus
Posted on 07/03/2012, in Film and tagged africa, anders thomas jensen, best foreign language film, charlotte mcmanus, denmark, don't panic, don't panic magazine, film, golden globes, in a better world, mikael persbrandt, oscars, susanne bier. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.