In a Better World, where displaced tykes and bullies abound

If The King's Speech was a comfy middlebrow choice for Best Picture of 2010, how much more depressing was the Academy's squandering of Best Foreign Language Film on Susanne Bier's In a Better World? Displaced tykes and bullies both macro and micro abound in this relentlessly pandering drama about a saintly Danish doctor (Mikael Persbrandt) who ministers to feuding Africans in a refugee camp while failing to notice that the suffering child (Markus Rygaard) of his broken marriage courts danger back home. Slick moralizing grows exponentially while the plot — wrapped in travelogue photography, transparently expository dialogue, and cheap thrills — drives home spurious parallels between the First and Third worlds. Can't we all get along? Bier surely means well, but the road to compassion porn is paved with noble intentions, laced with a nakedly commercial appeal that flatters moviegoers with a vision of the West as Africa's savior from itself. Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen began promisingly with the 2003 Dogme melodrama Open Hearts, but their collaborations grew ever soapier, as the mawkish Brothers (2004) and the truly dire After the Wedding (2006) attest. Watch for news of a three-picture deal for Bier, a rising star of the mush that cocoons the American-indie mainstream.

 
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