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Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “In a Better World,” “Three,” Reviewed (photo)

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When an audience member wondered aloud at the Toronto Film Festival why Susanne Bier decided to change the English title of her latest film “In a Better World” from its original Danish translation “The Revenge,” the director of “After the Wedding” and “Brothers” told the crowd that she was concerned it would be perceived as a horror film. In a way, “In a Better World” actually fits that bill nicely, not as part of that particular genre, but instead as a well-told parable about on the futile perpetuation of violence.

To date, the only explosions in Bier’s work have occurred figuratively, the product of slow-simmering spats between lovers or people at an emotional crossroads of one kind or another that come to a head. Here, they become literal in the story of Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), a pair of middle school classmates who seek out retribution after witnessing Elias’ father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) get slapped by a local mechanic after trying to separate his son from a potential fight. For Anton, it’s an action not worth responding to, especially since he’s seen far worse things in Kenya at the hands of local warlords where he provides medical support as a doctor.

09192010_InaBetterWorld2.jpgSince Anton spends most of his time in Kenya, it’s a rare opportunity to set an example for his son and his friend. Yet Christian, the new kid on the block who becomes Elias’ friend after protecting him from the school’s bully, doesn’t see things the same way. Both children are outcasts at school and the sons of distant fathers, though only Christian resorts to his fists (or more appropriately a bicycle pump) as taunts and threats turn into random physical aggression against them both. When Christian’s father Claus (Ulrich Thomsen) insists that hitting someone isn’t the best way to respond to getting hit, Christian fires back, “Not if you hit hard enough.”

The wonderful thing about that exchange is the bitter humor that comes out of the gap between reality and principle, something “In a Better World” explores to its fullest. As a director, Bier presents the villains of the film in no uncertain terms: Sofus, the blonde bully who tortures Elias with catcalls of “ratface,” clearly deserves some comeuppence, as does the racist oaf of a mechanic who incites Anton.

However, whatever lack of sophistication exists for the aggressors in the film is reserved for the conversation that Bier and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen would like to inspire about violence begetting violence and where the line should be drawn. “In a Better World” is compelling because Bier once again proves her precision as a keen observer of human relationships, but for many filmmakers, greater scope doesn’t always portend a greater impact – Bier may not believe in hitting back, but she’s a big believer in hitting hard.

09192010_TomTykwerThree.jpgLike Bier, Tom Tykwer has also headed back to his home country after an English-language vacation of “Perfume” and “The International” and I’d be surprised if I ever see the uncut version of his latest, “Drei (Three),” arrive in the U.S. intact. This isn’t for quality reasons – the film is a welcome return to Tykwer’s unusually structured thrillers from the turn of the century, but given its share of explicit sex scenes (involving both sexes) shown matter-of-factly, it would take a brave distributor to take a chance on “Drei,”

If someone does, they’ll get a stylish drama with a wicked sense of humor on the order of Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe,” pulsating with the kind of visual panache and subversion that only a first class director can deliver, even though it tells a rather contrived and slightly sleazy story. Your appreciation of “Drei” will somewhat rely on how much you accept the coincidence involved in the story of Simon (Sebastian Schipper) and Hanna (Sophie Rois), a longtime couple who unbeknownst to each other find themselves having an affair with the same man, Adam (David Striesow), the head of a stem cell research center that Anna has become intrigued by, in her job as a TV news anchor, and is a member of the same swimming club as Simon.

09192010_TomTykwerThree2.jpgAs I’ve found with my favorite Tykwer films besides his breakthrough “Run Lola Run,” it takes nearly an hour into “Drei” to get its bearings and a little longer for the endgame to begin to expose itself, as the director is all over the place in setting up the circumstances that have led to the dual affair – Simon is diagnosed with testicular cancer, Hanna is fantasizing about other men, and their relationship has fallen into a predictable and all-too relaxed stasis that arrives with middle age restlessness.

Meanwhile, Adam doesn’t receive nearly as much attention from Tykwer, but he’s largely a cipher for the film’s larger point about not fitting into the accepted societal order of things and while his occupation involving genetics leads to a overarching motif that seems a bit silly, Tykwer is too busy dazzling your eye and appealing to primal instinct of a story well told for it to matter. With “Drei,” Tykwer asks audiences to think differently, but why the film works is because at its core, it’s pitching an old idea in a completely new way.

“In a Better World” will be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics early next year; “Drei (Three)” currently does not have U.S. distribution.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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