Dogme is dead – long live Dogme. Susanne Bier’s forceful follow-up to her 2002 drama Open Hearts might jettison the pared-down strictures of that Danish movement, but it’s clear her experiences working under its dictates have made her a richer, more confident filmmaker. The proof is Brothers: a visceral, thrilling work that puts its characters and the audience through an emotional wringer en route to a moving and cathartic denouement.
Though the scenes in Afghanistan (actually shot in Spain) point towards war-is-hell polemic, this is at heart a chamber piece whose true battlefield is the home Ulrich Thomsen’s genial soldier leaves at the onset of the story. One chillingly plausible helicopter crash later, it’s left to his traumatised wife (Gladiator’s Connie Nielsen giving her first performance in her native tongue) to pick up the pieces – with a little help from Thomsen’s ne’er-do-well brother, a drifter forced to shoulder responsibility for the first time in his hitherto feckless life.
Bier ensures there is humour amid the heartbreak, notably in a hilarious scene where Nikolaj Lie Kaas’ Jannik opens an account with the same bank-teller he robbed. But this is merely the calm before the storm Thomsen carries with him when he comes back from the front: the atrocities he has both witnessed and participated in acting as the catalyst that sets husband against wife, children against father and brother against brother.
There is an element of soap opera here, but it’s skilfully concealed by DoP Morten Søborg’s edgy, handheld camerawork and performances so raw they practically bleed. “Couldn’t you just stay dead?” asks Thomsen’s daughter in an exchange that typifies Brothers’ brutal honesty, while his visit to the family of the radio man he was forced to slaughter is a devastating antidote to the cynical manipulation that attended Tom Cruise’s similar housecall in Born On The Fourth Of July.
So hardly the most cheerful movie you’ll see this month. For sheer cinematic intensity, however, it’s one family affair worth getting involved in.
A superb cast, crew and script produce a tough but rewarding drama that shows things are far from rotten in the state of Denmark.