Philip is on the left and Ida is the 2nd from the right in this scene from the wedding party.
© 2012 Sony Pictures Classics
Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16.14
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Hollywood could learn a thing or two about romantic comedy from Danish director Susanne Bier, whose film In a Better World won a Best Foreign Film Oscar for 2010. Her new film is the story of two unhappy middle-aged people who meet by accident when each is rushing to Copenhagen’s airport to catch a flight to Italy. Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a hairdresser, has had a terrible day: just finishing a series of cancer treatments with an uncertain prognosis, she had gone home early and discovered her loutish husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) having sex with his young accountant Tilde (Christiane Shaumburg-Muller). Showing no shame, Leif tells Tilde to take a taxi back to the office—and to be sure to get a receipt. No doubt a business deduction. The crushed Ida walks away, determined to fly alone to Italy for their daughter Astrid’s (Molly Blixt Egelind) wedding, though first she has to bid Goodbye to their son Kenneth (Micky Skeel Hansen), a soldier being shipped off to war.
As she backs out of her space in the parking garage, Ida runs into the side of the car driven by Philip (Pierce Brosnan), a wealthy British workaholic dealer in shipments of fruit and vegetables still angry at the world over the death of his Danish wife several years earlier. He is also on the way to Italy. It turns out that it is his son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) whom Astrid intends to marry. It seems that even before his wife’s death, he had spent more time at his place of business than with his son.
Meanwhile in the lovely town of Sorrento, nestled among the mountains and the sea, Astrid and Patrick are busy getting his family’s villa into shape for the arrival of the wedding guests. It has been years since the house has been used, due to his father’s never having gotten over the death of his wife. Astrid and Patrick seem the picture perfect bride and groom to be, although in one bedroom scene she tells him “premarital sex is now okay.” (Makes a person of faith realize how counter-cultural the once widely accepted sexual ethics of the church now is.) He does not take her up on her less than subtle hint.
Although you can partially guess some of the developments ahead, there are some unexpected, and deeply heart-rending happenings as well. Some viewers might not agree with a gender issue involved in one of the subplots, but most will find this adult romantic tale, dealing also with mother-daughter and father-son issues, to be refreshing. To complicate matters Philip has a brash sister-in-law Benedikte (Paparika Steen) who has always envied her sister’s marriage to him. Besides almost ruining matters, by talking too long at the rehearsal dinner, she does contribute one good thing, a well-chosen quote from Henry Miller, “The only thing we never get enough of is love and the only thing we never give enough of is love.” We never hear the Beatles’ song that the title suggests; we do hear two versions of the once popular song “That’s Amore.” In Astrid we see a person who exemplifies what the apostle Paul meant in his advice contained in two epistles above. If anyone deserves to “live happily ever after,” it is she.
There are spoilers as soon as Q. 3!
1. How is this film both similar and different from the typical romantic-comedy?
2. What are the problems with which Ida and Philip have to cope? Who do you think is doing the better job?
3. Did you suspect something was amiss concerning Astrid and Patrick’s relationship, despite his public affirmation of love? Why do you think he intended to marry Astrid? How is the issue of pleasing his father as basic as his gender identity? Even if you do not approve of the gay lifestyle, might you think Patrick’s decision a wise one? Or at least, a more honest one than continuing with the wedding?
4. What truth do you see in the Henry Miller quote? Dose anything else even come close—that is could anything else be substituted for “love” in the statement?
5. How do we see Astrid drawing Philip put of his self-absorbed shell? Have you know someone like her, almost the incarnation of what we think of as a loving person?
6. What do you think of Leif and Benedikte—to be loathed or pitied? How might the latter be seen as a tragic character? What do you think of the way in which Philip dealt with her? That is, could he have been more gentle or understanding? What do you think will happen to her—and her equally self-absorbed daughter?
7. How did you feel at the end of the film? Were you wondering at first at the way it seemed about to end? How might this, in a way, made the film more original, though less satisfying?