The second entry in my 52 films list by the wonderful Suzanne Bier, Brothers (Brodre) is a tense, taut little family drama, where there are no answers and no rights, no wrongs. Set in a Denmark of flat fields, trees, quiet suburbia, it’s the story of Michael (Ulrik Thomsen) and his brother Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), the ubiquitous brothers at the heart of the story. Michael is a major in the Danish army, a solid family man, in love with his beautiful wife (Connie Nielsen, who is superb). He’s always toed his father’s line… unlike Jannik, who’s a rebel and a danger, an ex con who’s just come home in time to see his brother off to Afghanistan.
When Michael goes missing in action – presumed dead – in that godforsaken country, Jannik’s role in the family changes. He’s no longer the black sheep; suddenly he’s the man his sister in law can rely on. He’s the man who can deal with DIY and his elderly parents, and his rambunctious nieces. He’s suddenly a big part of their lives and it’s a new role he embraces warmly, happy to find himself accepted and loved where once he was turned away and shunned.
But then – and this isn’t a spoiler, we know early on that Michael isn’t killed – his brother comes home from war a changed man. And suddenly the kaleidoscope of the family shifts again and this time it’s Michael who is out of place, Michael who had to make a terrible choice in Afghanistan and is somehow no longer the better brother. Michael, whose jealousy and PTSD threaten to tear him – and his family – apart.
It’s a wonderfully emotional drama, with no overwrought performances or high-grade weeping. Instead, lives are remoulded and remade with intensity and conviction, a hallmark of Bier’s directing (and in this case, writing, as she penned Brothers, too). Nielsen is a lovely revelation as the grieving wife, mother, sister in law; a real character with all the frailties and flaws that all of us carry inside us. She is allowed freedom to display all these qualities by Bier and this is also a wonderful treat to witness. Highly recommended.