This year, Susanne Bier won the best foreign-language film Oscar for the most powerful and moving film to win the prize since Federico Fellini’s La strada fifty-five years earlier. Bier, a Jewish Dane, won her Oscar (and Golden Globe) for Hævnen, a marvelous exploration of what parents and children do not know about each other, and indeed often cannot know. The somber, by turns explosive and tender drama focuses on two families whose paths cross and which share the outcome of specific events.
One of the two fathers involved is Claus, who has moved back from London to the suburbs of Copenhagen with his nearly teenaged son, Christian, following the death, from cancer, of his wife. All Christian knows is that the mother he adored is dead, and he blames his father for not having done enough to save her. Convinced that Claus wanted her to die, he repeatedly calls his father a liar and, at one point, even strikes him. As a consequence, Christian has lost, hopefully temporarily, his moral moorings. But there are things he doesn’t know about his father, for instance, that Claus did want his wife to die, but only at the end, and only because she wanted to die. Christian may also not know, or possibly understand, the cruelty with which his mother assaulted his father, despite his care of her, toward the end.
Anton is a doctor who divides his time between home, where he is separated from his wife, Marianne, and a refugee camp in Kenya, where he deals honorably and courageously with life, death and vicious circumstances. A Swedish immigrant to Denmark, Anton has two sons, the older of whom, Elias, is bullied at school and who is especially vulnerable in his father’s periodic absences. Indeed, because Anton appears to let a bully bully him, that is, Anton, Elias may even see his father as incapable of protecting either of them. Anton loves Elias dearly and wants his son to learn righteous conduct from his example. Elias is half-convinced, but Christian, his new friend at school, draws him into a potentially lethal plot against the man who has bullied his father. However, it is Elias who may pay with his life.
Scenarist Anders Thomas Jensen and Bier convincingly, compellingly demonstrate how much more can be involved in a “relationship” than just the two principals.
Beauteous color cinematography—especially of skies and weather—is contributed by reliable Bier collaborator Morten Søborg.
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