SFIFF 2005: Brothers

BrothersOne of the top Danish releases of 2004, Brothers (dir. Susanne Bier) is a gripping, unflinching look at the effects of war on the human psyche and the ensuing turmoil to both the vets that return home and their immediate families. Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) and Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) are blood brothers but their paths through life could not be more dissimilar: Michael is a ranking officer in the army, an upstanding citizen, happily married to Sarah (Connie Nielsen) with two adorable daughters. Jannik has just been released from prison (the starting point of the film) where he served time for robbery and assault. He also suffers from bouts of rage - when Michael suggests he apologize to the woman he hurt, Jannik starts an argument which culminates in him pulling the parking brakes in a moving car and striding off in a huff. He later returns that night to a family dinner in celebration of his release and of Michael's imminent deployment to the NATO forces in Afganisthan. Their father's cold treatment of Jannik suggests he is very much the black sheep of the family. Subsequent events in Afganisthan, when Michael is captured by the mujahideen and ultimately rescued, completely upend this established order.

Superbly scripted and acted, this is the first film I recall that deals with the soldiers returning from the war on terror. Setting aside discussions on the morality of the war, this drama is reminiscent of the great coming-home Vietnam films of the '70s (Deer Hunter, Coming Home) yet its tone is more intimate. Greatly contributing to this is the grainy picture (the film was shot in high definition and transferred to 35mm) and the gritty, hand-held camerawork with extreme close-ups of the faces and eyes of the characters. Another difference is the emotional pace of the film - it builds and builds until the final events come as cathartic release, both for the characters and the audience.

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- May 1, 2005 1:49 PM // Film , Review