In A Better World (15)

Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm
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The Independent Culture

Impossible to watch this Scandinavian drama about violence in the male psyche without being reminded of terrible recent events in Norway.

Susanne Bier (Open Hearts, After the Wedding) sets up an intriguing generational story that drags two middle-class families towards tragedy. At its centre is a noble-minded surgeon (Mikael Persbrandt) who, away for long periods in Africa, doesn't know that his teenage son (Markus Rygaard) is being bullied at school. But the latter finds an ally in the new boy (William Jøhnk Nielsen), a recently bereaved son with an ominous sense of justice. Bier has a great gift for tender observation – you really believe that these people are family – and stages one breathtakingly tense setpiece when the surgeon puts his impeccably liberal principle of non-retaliation to the test against a thuggish car mechanic. (That principle reaches breaking-point when he's plunged into an horrific dilemma back in Africa). Only in the last reel does its sure touch falter, with Bier seemingly unable to let her story go. But it impressed the Academy sufficiently to win this year's Oscar for a Foreign Language film.