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It's rare to find a movie with a meaningful, political context that is
also good drama. Brødre / Brothers has two interwoven story lines: one
about the relationship between two brothers, the other about the
difference between comfortable Western civilizations sending out
soldiers to various missions and the actual war zones. These stories
mirror each other and both brothers change roles during the movie: One
starts in prison, the other ends up there; one is a family man; the
other takes over this role after his brother's death. There is a nice
ending, but I find that the only element not fitting the overall
I like this also because it is well edited. Synchronization of images is used to tell the story of Michael in Afghanistan and Sarah in Denmark. Frequently a shot of Afghanistan is shown and directly followed by the same shot in Denmark: looking at a road, from a bus or car, etc.
Initially rhythm is established through a central 'Afghan' theme song. Once the characters are established in our minds, the acting takes over. I'm still wondering why Danish actors (and Scandinavian actors in general) are so good in what they do: Is that a compulsory subject in primary school there because even the children act so unbelievably natural.
The ethical dilemmas facing soldiers are well presented. Michael first has to demonstrate how a launcher works, knowing it will be used against his own people. Then comes the ultimate decision. The traumas he faces are real and reminded me of actual, similar stories of soldiers returning from Bosnia, Afghanistan or Iraq.
Susanne Bier has come out of the Dogme-movement as one of the better directors. In a world with not that many (talented) female directors she is someone to be cherished.
Best picture we've seen in 2005. Why can't Hollywood make movies like this any more? Great cast, great direction, dialogue perfectly written comes through with power even in Danish with English subtitles! Connie Nielsen is in a league with Myrl Streep as an actress. The portrayal of the rough and tumble relationship of the brothers is so real it seems alive. Make sure you see this movie either in the theatres or on DVD. Nielsen is gorgeous but realistically portrays a housewife. The parents are classic Scandinavians, stolid and down to earth. Two little girls are played with zest and great energy. And the brothers, are quite believable as brothers. If you are interested in serious cinema and grown up movies "Brothers" should be on your list.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Susanne Bier's "Brothers" is a gripping account of the relationship
between two brothers. Ms. Bier, a distinguished director, presents in
this new venture a psychological study in the mind of one man who has
been scarred by events beyond his control. The screen play by Ms. Bier
and Andreas Thomas Jensen is one of the most powerful things that have
come out from the Danish cinema.
If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading here.
At the beginning of the movie, we are shown Michael who is picking up a prisoner from a jail. It turns out that the released man is none other than Jannik, his own brother. It's clear, at the outset, these two men are as different as oil and vinegar. They quarrel along the way and Jannik gets out and walks into a field to get away from his brother.
Michael, a major in the army, is for all we see, happily married. He is preparing to go to Afghanistan with his unit. His pretty wife, Sarah, and his two young daughters are going to be left on their own, but everything seems to be under control.
When Michael's helicopter is shot from the sky by enemy fire, he is reported as dead, something that affects Sarah deeply. Jannik, the distant brother in law, suddenly gravitates toward Sarah and her children. Sarah, in her grief over her loss, becomes closer to this man.
Michael, on the other hand, hasn't died. We see him as he is taken to an enemy camp where he is seen sharing a cell with another Danish soldier. There's hardly any contact between captors and prisoners. The two men bond, but the other man is seen weakening because of he senses they will be killed. Death arrives, in a devastating sequence that has to be one of the most heart wrenching thing in a film in recent memory.
As the camp is liberated, Michael is repatriated. Sarah knows something has happened to her husband, who never talks about the tragedy at the camp. What's more, one watches in horror as Michael begins to spiral out of control. His guilt finally explodes in a rage, even Jannik, can stop. Michael, in his state, suspects about his own wife's infidelity with his brother. He accuses her of betrayal, something his older daughter, Natalia, seems to be convinced happened between her mother and uncle. Michael, being so tormented, breaks down and begins trashing the house. Jannik comes to help and the brothers have an almost fatal confrontation. At the end we watch as Sarah visits Michael in jail and how he breaks down and tell her the horrible secret he has been hiding all along.
Ulrich Thomsen is the best thing in the film! Mr. Thomsen's performance is one of the most complex we have watched in a while. Mr. Thomsen makes Michael come alive in front of our eyes. Connie Nielsen, an actress that has worked extensively in the American cinema makes also quite an impression with her portrayal of Sarah, the wife that has to deal with the false death of her husband, only to find out he is alive. The other good performance is by Nikolaj Lil Kaas, who plays Jannik, the problem brother. All the supporting players make a contribution to the film.
Ms. Bier shows she can hold her own against much more accomplished directors.
'Brødre'('Brothers') is a remarkable film from Denmark written by
Anders Thomas Jensen and Susanne Bier who also directs this microscopic
examination of the intricacies of family bonding, the significance of
the blood ties between brothers, and the effects of one of the brutal
realities of war on every individual member of a family. It is a tense
drama made palpable by some phenomenal acting and direction.
Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) and Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) are polar opposites as brothers: Michael is his father's dream, a man who is committed to his family, his beautiful and devoted wife Sarah (Connie Nielsen) with whom he has two daughters, while Jannik is a carefree drifter who drinks too much and refuses to have the stable life his parents expect of him. Michael is off to war in Afghanistan and is in a tragic helicopter accident and reported as dead. When Sarah is informed her world crumbles, as does the mental state of her father-in-law. Jannik hears the news while drunk but slowly awakens to the awful reality that his brother is gone and his sister-in-law and nieces need the support he has never been able to muster.
In Afghanistan we discover that Sarah's inclination that Michael is not really dead is true: Michael has been captured by the Taliban and the experience as a prisoner changes him indelibly, breaking his shell of perfection and he becomes vulnerable and fragile. When Michael returns home to the surprise of everyone the dynamics that have reversed between the family and Jannik and the force that bonds Michael and Jannik is challenged and we are left to examine the fallout.
The script in Danish is supplemented with excellent subtitles in English, but one wonders if the words are even necessary - so fine is the acting of every actor involved. Connie Nielson is a major force in cinema today, a brilliant actor whose spectrum of dynamics appears endless. Both Thomsen and Kaas are equally fine in their difficult roles. This is a superlative work, a psychological drama that strikes chords of familiarity on many levels. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp
The family man Major Michael Lundberg (Ulrich Thomsen) is happily
married with his beloved Sarah (Connie Nielsen) and adores his two
daughters Natalia (Sarah Juel Werner) and Camilla (Rebecca Løgstrup
Soltau). His younger brother Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) has just left
prison on probation for bank robbery and has issues with his father
Henning (Bent Mejding). Michael invites Jannik to have dinner at home
with their family. When Michael arrives in Afghanistan, his helicopter
crashes and he is considered missing in action. However, he is captured
and sent to a camp where he meets the radar technician Niels Peter (Paw
Henriksen). After a long period imprisoned, Micahel is forced to kill
Niels with a bar to survive. Meanwhile Jannick comforts Sarah and the
children and he becomes close to Michael's family. When Michael is
rescued, he comes back home emotionally detached and paranoid. Further,
he is convinced that Sarah and Jannik have slept together during his
absence. When the envious Natalia lies during the birthday dinner party
of her sister telling that her mother and Jannik had shagged to upset
her father, the disturbed Michael triggers an intense paranoia
jeopardizing his family.
"Brødre" is a powerful and realistic drama about lives destroyed by war. This film is extremely well-acted, with an adequate cast that gives credibility to the plot led by the gorgeous and excellent Connie Nielsen. The sensitive director Susanne Bier of "Efter Brylluppet" makes another extraordinary movie based on the family dynamics. Jim Sheridan remade this film in 2009, but in a shallow teen "americanization" version. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Brothers"
A man and his family suffer when he cannot talk about the extreme decisions he has had to make - and live with. Anyone who has friends or relatives that have been in a warzone or war-like conditions will recognize the strong emotions that sometimes take control of people when they come back into their daily realities. It portrays a man who seems to have lost control and brings home a lot of repressed anger, which almost costs him his family. Great movie with a great story and great acting portraying real ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Part of this movies strong emotional impact comes from the use of hand-held camera and lots of wonderful close-ups. Near-life, near-reality, near-death
The movie is filmed mostly with hand held camera, and the technical quality is not the best. I am normally not a fan of these so called "Dogme" movies, but it gives the opportunity to tell a story with a small budget and without having to waste time on special effects and so on. And what a movie. The actors play so intense and fascinatingly well, that I often sat on the edge of the seat, had "goose bumps"(gaasehud), wept like whipped(graed som pisket). The cutting is also very special and interesting. For instance a scene, where representatives of the military arrives to tell Sarah, that her husband is missing, it is cut right before they tell her the bad news. It gives a good effect. I would also like to welcome Connie Nielsen to the staff of fantastic Danish actors(her first danish movie) and will look forward to possibly/eventually watch/experience her great magic i a Danish movie again. I must write her a fan letter(my first).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Brothers" is about going away to war and coming back damaged and
violent. It's also about how the dynamics change not only when a family
member is away at war -- one of the brothers is an officer sent to
Afghanistan -- but change again even more drastically when he returns.
"Brothers" is harrowing to watch. That's its success. It has to
disturb. Otherwise it wouldn't have done its job. But I felt so
brutalized by this film that I could barely think.
Michael (Ulrich Thomsen), the officer, has a beautiful wife, Sarah (Connie Nielsen) and two pretty little girls, Natalia (Sarah Juel Werner) and Camilla (Rebecca Løgstrup). His parents live nearby -- his mother Else (Solbjørg Højfeldt) steady, young-looking; his father Henning (Bent Mejding) bossy, a bit sullen, a drinker. Michael's younger brother Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is handsome in a rough way, drinks, smokes, smiles, likes a laugh. All these people are filled in with a hand-held camera whose vérité edginess links events in Afghanistan with happenings in the family back in Denmark.
The single, jobless Jannik is very much a part of this tight little family but he's a punching bag for the father and Michael because he's always had trouble and is now just out of prison for a bank robbery and assault. He doesn't seem to be looking for a job and both the other men scorn him.
Nevertheless, Jannik's a strong presence at the farewell dinner before Michael, a major in the Danish army, leaves for a second mission to Afghanistan, this time of three months. Jannik's blunt criticisms of the Danes' making war in Afghanistan (which Michael has called "rebuilding a country") are pungent and not unconvincing. Jannik is his own man, and despite his unimpressive life so far, he speaks with confidence and is the more charismatic of the two men. Michael's stolid inwardness isn't very appealing.
Michael seems to have been hoping for an easy tour of duty, but on arrival in Afghanistan he's immediately told he must go and find a young Danish soldier who's just gone missing in enemy territory. That's cut short as quickly when Michael's helicopter is shot down over water and back home he's declared dead. In fact Michael is taken prisoner and something horrible happens. This part of the story, which is cut in briefly between scenes of the family back home, isn't shown in detail; everything happens bang! bang! bang! What we see at the enemy encampment alternates between long periods of silent hopeless waiting and a few moments of intense brutality.
In response to the news that Michael is dead the family regroups as it grieves. The previously careless Jannik finds he deeply misses his brother and reacts by taking on some of Michael's responsibilities, spending time with the two girls, getting a couple of boozy carpenters to help him finish the kitchen Michael left under construction and then continuing to work with them as a team. Michael's absence has made Yannik grow more serious. He still gets drunk -- this is a hard-drinking country -- and runs out of money at the local bar, but this time he calls Sarah at four in the morning and she cheerfully comes and collects him. Jannik and Sarah, who were at loggerheads, are discovering they like each other. Occasionally they kiss, but Jannik resists the temptation to go further. He befriends Natalia and Camilla, who bond with him.
Eventually American troops storm the Islamist encampment in Afghanistan where Michael is held and rescue him. He pretends not to remember what took place there while he was a prisoner but he does. When he is returned to Denmark, he's distant, angry, numb, and inarticulate. He stays bottled up and gradually gets worse. He can't deal with the new dynamics and is sure his wife has betrayed him. This leads to a crisis that as the movie ends may finally be forcing Michael to speak up and get help.
The question is, though, can any help he receives, even if it comes, resolve the residue of Michael's brutal Afghan past now? Michael is complicit in an event for which he might justifiably feel forever guilty. There's no forgiveness in sight as the movie ends, and judging by a shocking declaration from little Natalia, the girls seem to have thrown their allegiance in with Yannik and turned against their father. When he finally loses it and grows violent, it's scary and life-threatening, and you wonder how this family could ever be safe with him again.
The shattering experience "Brothers" provides is hard to assimilate, and that's probably intentional. The persistent difficulty is that the character of Michael is never really sympathetic, even at the beginning, and hence his transformation is less complex for the viewer than it might have been. Yannik is a more successful creation: the way he is written and acted strikes a nice balance between unreliability and warm appeal from the start. But the movie is not notable for its subtlety. The beautiful Connie Nielsen provides a winning, serene presence that doesn't intrude unduly on the events that swirl around her. If it were not for her and Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Jnnik, there would be no one much to sympathize with.
A remarkable movie in several ways. The first is just that it's well made, with two main layers of story line that are compelling, and some surprising and mostly believable turns. The second is that we (in the U.S.) have a look at the war in Afghanistan from non-American eyes. The echoes are inevitable, and so are the differences, in attitude by the soldiers and in public reaction.
The lead actor Ulrich Thomsen is compelling and versatile, and in some ways makes the movie. His range (which you have to see for yourself or you'll be tipped off) is terrific. His wife, played by better known Connie Nielsen (in her first Danish movie, even though she is Danish herself, and knows seven languages) is perfect, too, though she plays someone who is admittedly "boring" and so has less range. Finally, the lead man's brother, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, is charming and a wild card, making the trio appropriately imbalanced.
I say all this because it's an acting movie, and a movie about relationships and therefore about plot. It's not a war movie, but more about the effects of war. It's recommended for people who have absorbed American movies like The Hurt Locker. But more than that, it's just a well made, emotional, human interest film. There are a couple flaws (including the key part about the helicopter crash, which just doesn't hold up to common sense), but they are small in the larger, gritty realism of the whole.
It's not hard to classify this one--it's an intense psychological
drama. Whatever mood you were in before you started, you are most
likely to be in a somber mood at the end. Perhaps the less you know
about the story the more it will involve you. This is one of those
movies that makes you ask the questions, "What would I have done in
that situation," and "How would I have lived with my decision."
The main thrust of the story is an intimate examination of how a tragedy affects family dynamics. Nature abhors a vacuum. Guilt, jealousy, and doubt drive this to an intense climax.
Parformances are first rate, particularly Connie Nielsen.
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