I had the opportunity to see the 2011 Academy Award winning Best Foreign Film the other day. Wow! The cinematography is beautiful, the acting is amazing, and the plot is powerful.
Fair warning though, this is a Danish film. There is quite a bit of English spoken in the film, but you’ll be reading subtitles a lot.
Also, keep in mind the English title is a not an exact translation. You probably think Hævnen means Heaven. Certainly the “In a Better World” title used abroad leads English speakers to believe that. Heaven is a better world after all.
But don’t be fooled. Hævnen is Danish for revenge. And that’s what this film is about.
To me the plot was about bullying, its ramifications for society and its often unforeseen consequences as told through two 10-year-old boys and their families. It’s a film everyone over age 12 should see. William Jøhnk Nielsen and Markus Rygaard, who played the main characters — two boys above — were incredible.
One of the reasons for the bullying is probably a bit obscure, though the film subtitles do a good job of trying to help the audience understand. One boy is the son of Swedes who live in Denmark. One boy is Danish. So there’s the whole foreigner thing going on — which seems weird to Americans because they’re both White Europeans, but . . . . among Scandinavians (which the Danish and Swedish peoples are), a Danish stereotype of Swedes is that they are stupid. (By the way, a Scandinavian stereotype of Danish people is that they’re too blunt!)
The film had many other layers, intertwined stories of love, loss, redemption, forgiveness, but they were all bound together by the overriding theme of revenge (great and small) and the consequences that stem from taking (or not taking) revenge.
I think that most Americans will find the film too long (2.5 hours because of many long. beautiful scenery shots) and be shocked, if not horrified, by its ending. However, I liked the cinematic flare of the film with its color saturated shots and long moments of reflective acting. I liked the ending too. It was uplifting, redemptive. But it was definitely not for everyone.
Foreign films give you an opportunity to learn about another culture, another way of handling life’s events, another way of living in community. So, if the ending of the film truly shows how Danes would hand out “justice,” which is a type of “revenge” in this scenario (ie, the film truly hows such a case would be handled in Denmark), then I admire the Danes tremendously!
Spoiler Alert — Read No Further if you plan to watch the film!
In America, no cop would deem two 10-year-old boys destroying someone’s car with a massive pipe bomb a case of “serious vandalism,” return them to their parents, and assume they’d just go back to their same public school after summer break.
Of course in America, the instigating boy would have been thrown into prison after his first criminal act (assault on another student while on school property) and things would never have reached the level of destroying someone’s empty car with a bomb!