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MiamiFF Review: Susanne Bier’s ‘A Second Chance’ Follows a Father Battling Despair with Drastic Measures

MiamiFF Review: Susanne Bier’s 'A Second Chance' Follows a Father Battling Despair with Drastic Measures

A Second Chance” had its U.S. Premiere at the Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival last week – ISA: TrustNordisk, U.S. Distribution: None Yet. 

Tugging at the audience’s heartstrings is one of Danish director Susanne Bier’s most pronounced talents. By constructing intricate stories that place her
characters in extreme moral dilemmas, the director often makes it difficult for the viewer to decide if their actions are rational, justifiable, or a consequence of an uncontrollable emotional outburst. Such fervent ambivalence is rather conspicuous in her latest homegrown drama “A Second Chance,” in
which all parties involved seek the vindication the title hints at. But as the plot advances through a series of startling revelations, the shifting nature
of the truth shows that the one person who will learn the most from this ordeal is, of course, whom we least expect.

Enjoying a seemingly idyllic life in a gorgeous house by the sea, Andreas (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a police officer, couldn’t ask for much else. His loving
wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie) and their baby boy Alexander fill his existence with
purpose. This apparent stability at home helps him maintain balance given the stress associated with his career. Ethereal
landscapes, sunsets, and sunrises, adorn the visual aesthetic crafted by cinematographer  Michael Snyman, which provides
a certain melancholic beauty. It enhances the idea of a picture perfect setting,
whilst also suggesting there might be bleakness forthcoming.

During a routine raid to a shabby
apartment alongside his partner Simon (played by a convincingly distressed Ulrich Thomsen), Andreas recognizes fauxhawk-wearing brute Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a physically imposing and ruthlessly violent junkie he had dealt
with back in Copenhagen. Sanne (May Andersen), Tristan’s girlfriend in turn, also lives in the filthy place and is often forcefully drugged by him to prevent her from
leaving. As the officers subdue the delinquents, a baby’s faint cries can be heard coming from a nearby closet. Andreas finds the couple’s child, Sofus,
covered in his own feces, a sign of the horrendous neglect he’s experienced.
Juxtaposed with the  exemplary household mentioned above, this image bluntly questions the qualities attached to someone fit to be a parent.

Profoundly affected by such gut-wrenching sight, and evidently thinking of his own son, Andreas urges his superiors to get Sofus away from his revolting
parents before things take an even worse turn. Unexpectedly, notwithstanding the child’s appearance, the authorities reveal Sofus is not malnourished or
hurt, thus he can’t be removed from Tristan’s grip. Unable to do much more Andreas returns to his family. He shares with Anna the sleepless nights that
come with raising a child and the joy of witnessing its development. It’s all mostly
ordinary till now, but when tragedy strikes, unthinkably drastic decisions will
emerge.

Bouncing
between his role as a father and as cop, Coster-Waldau plays Andreas with the
utmost internal strength. It’s not unfounded bravado, but well-rounded
confidence. He is ready to drag his friend Simon out of the dirt as the latter
struggles with personal troubles related to his own son and his ex-wife. He
turns to alcohol and women to appease his demons. Obviously Andreas is the more
grounded of the two, and this leads one to believe that won’t crumble when
confronted with pain. This is an erroneous assumption.

Slowly, Bier
and her writing partner, Anders Thomas Jensen (Oscar-winning
“In a Better World”), expose the fractured reality that wasn’t visible
through the initial curtain of false perfection. Irritable and drained, Anna
starts showing signs of an unstable emotional state, to which Andreas responds
with patience and compassion. Subtly but effectively Bonnevie conveys Anna’s anguish and unpredictable behavior, which eventually scalates aggressively. One morning, an unspeakable nightmare
materializes when Anna wakes up and finds their son, Alexander, dead.
Impulsively and afraid that Anna will hurt herself facing such terrible truth,
Andreas decides to walk into Tristan and Sanne’s apartment to switch Sofus for
lifeless Alexander.

 

The idea is
asinine by anyone’s measures. Only a filmmaker like Bier – one who has proven
to have a notable ability to explore major themes within ornate premises –
would dare to push human drama to such shamelessly unfeasible territory. But as
contrived as it all might sound, “A Second Chance” successfully convinces us to
suppress our disbelief and to be touched by the protagonist’s Calvary. Once
Andreas presents Anna with their new “adopted” baby, a series of rattling plot twist
unravel. Meanwhile, Tristan designs an elaborate scheme to dispose of the body
and defend his innocence, while Sanne maintains that the deceased boy is not
her son.

Gasping at each
increasingly more perplexing occurrence is inevitable. Andreas shattered world
unfolds before us and his reactions are charged with heartbreaking desperation.
Sorrow impairs his judgment. Fortunately, the circumstantial and often far-fetched
realizations become palatable because the writers, via their characters, admit
that what is taking place is beyond out of the ordinary, even surreal. If there
were ever a film that could claim the idea that reality is often stranger than
fiction as an inspiration, this would be it. Although somehow predictable, the
resolution feels a bit more contrived than the rest of film probably due to its
simplicity, but it could be the director’s way to imbue the film with some much needed reassurance. 

Offering an
array of incredibly riveting performances, Bier delivers a fascinating, if
flawed, study on redemption. We as an audience are subconsciously interrogated
about our expectations and preconceived notions of what being a “noble citizen”
or a “wrongdoer” entail: How do we measure evil? What crimes are more
despicable? What are we willing to forgive? Bier’s characters here range from
the one-dimensional Tristan, to the marvelously layered Andreas – played
superbly by nuanced Coster-Waldau– but they all play a compelling part in the
cause-and-effect mechanic that reigns the film. Be prepared to accept that
second chances or a personal transformation can come in a mysterious shape. An officer
doesn’t have to become a sergeant to become a better person.

“A Second
Chance” is an utterly powerful and deeply touching experience. It hits you like
a shockwave to the heart with such intensity that is impossible to be
indifferent to its stirring questions. Could it be accused of being manipulative?
Sure. Does it succeed at being a stimulating and memorable cinematic work
despite its shortcomings? Absolutely.

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