Just as chatterboxes stopped clucking about the Miramax-circa-’96 mediocrity of The King’s Speech nabbing the Best Picture Oscar, along comes another recent WTF Academy Award winner that further justifies stereotypes about voters loving the cinematic equivalent of a warm bath. The stakes may be lower in the Best Foreign Film category, but for us art-house-haunting geeks who still passionately care about such things, the fact that Susanne Bier’s Danish melodrama beat out worthy contenders like Dogtooth and Incendies was a serious letdown.
Once you see the film, the temptation to blow Bronx cheers toward gold-statue committee members will be especially irresistible – though in fairness, this faux-humanistic screed would qualify as wishy-washy even if it’d lost. The subtitled writing on the wall comes early: New kid at school Christian (Nielsen) befriends and defends bullied classmate Elias (Rygaard). Once the former starts displaying alpha-male – and vaguely psychotic – tendencies, the narrative red flags begin waving.
So far, so Haneke lite; then Elias’s dad (Persbrandt), who preaches passive resistance over revenge, finds his tolerance tested when a vicious Kenyan warlord comes in for treatment at his Doctors Without Borders camp. Long before pipe bombs and parental negligence push things toward an inevitably tragic (yet somehow upbeat) conclusion, we’ve watched a complex question – is violence sometimes necessary? – filtered through both neocon and namby-pamby liberal viewpoints. While Bier doesn’t offer easy partisan answers, she still dilutes a social issue down to the level of soap-operatic background noise and back-patting platitudes. It – and we – deserve better. David Frear