Directed: Niels Arden Oplev
Genre: Coming of Age, Drama
Seventeen year old Sara (Rosalinde Mynster) is, together with her family, member of Jehovas Witnesses. After falling in love with the "non-witness" Teis, she's torn between following her love (which of course is not well-seen) and staying in the religious movement - and thus with her family. Based on a true story.
Movie ReviewsLast time I reviewed a danish production, I got spit out and bit in the tail for stepping on danish toes. Drømmen was supposedly Arden Oplev's masterpiece but however I tried, I didn't get it. Not one bit of it.
This time (and fate is sweet and relentless), unknowingly, I thoroughly enjoyed a danish masterpiece: To Verdener, same director and writer! And honestly, I watched it twice and I can't find any flaws in it. It's brilliant. The acting is so sincere, the story so well told, the movie's pace forces you to keep watching, music is original, and the plot very well unfolded.
A girl, raised as a Jehova's Witness, is forced into a devils dilemma when she falls for a charming older boy - a "non-witness", so there's bound to be trouble. This theme, very accurately portrayed and far from original, is very actual nowadays when so many people abandon their Christian roots, tempted by modern days' lusts and attractions, shopping, the net, sexuality, individuality and 'follow your dream' zeitgeist.
Not only makes Rosalinde Mynster this story believable, she acts it out so well, there must have been bucket loads of chemistry on the set. From the Elder John to the young sister Elisabeth (another danish acting wonder Sarah Juel Werner) - all characters are real, fully developed and utterly believable. The biggest surprise for me though, frankly, was Pilou Asbæk, in his role as Teis, Sara's new found love. What a charm, what charisma, and what talent. His character goes through lengths as much as even volunteering to join the Witnesses, thus reaching out for Sara and share her burden.
Sara, in the end, makes a far from diminutive choice, a choice for a worldly life - eventually even breaking all attachments; her family, her boyfriend and ultimately, Jehova.
The end dialog with her father is so pivotal and to the point, it should end up in cinema history books. Won't spoil it all for you - but it's pure excellence.
The best thing this movie achieves, is it never judges. There's no "good" or "bad" when it comes to religion. The Jehova's are portrayed unbiased, not overly sympathized, not threatening. Every decision Sara and her family have to make is difficult, complex. Yet it's far from depressing. In fact all in all this ends up to be a very positive movie.
Life has changed, life goes on. We all choose what we think is good for us.
Well to sum it up. Grand movie, very well acted, and gives food for thought big time. Give it 9 out of 10.
After his international hit "We Shall Overcome", director Niels Arden Oplev is back with a new drama about youthful rebellion against oppressive mores. Based on a true story, "Worlds Apart" takes an unblinking look at a teenage girl’s struggles, when falling in love makes her challenge the rigid principles governing the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
"Do you love God more than you love me?" 17-yearold Sara asks her father, sharply phrasing the central drama in Niels Arden Oplev’s "Worlds Apart": a teenage girl ostracised by her family and friends because she gets a boyfriend. Her father declares that he can't see her anymore if she chooses to be with her boyfriend, Teis. Sara presses him for an answer: Why does it have to be that way, she wants to know. Does he really love God more than he loves her?
RELIGION DIVIDING PEOPLE
Religion separates father and daughter. As Jehovah's Witnesses, Sara's family lives under strict rules, dictating what they can and cannot do.
Arden Oplev's new feature, based on the real-life events of a young Danish woman, takes up big issues of what it means to grow up in a context that tolerates no dissent from the reigning dogmas. Arden Oplev’s last film, "We Shall Overcome", which won the Crystal Bear in Berlin two years ago, is about a 13-year-old boy, in 1969, who rebels against an oppressive school system personified by a draconian headmaster. In "Worlds Apart" , Sara challenges the rules and mores of a rigid religious system. The two films are quite different, both in story and style, but Arden Oplev openly admits that they both deal with issues that are very close to him.
"To zoom in on why I made this film, again it's about how adults treat children that are in their power, that are their responsibility," Arden Oplev says.
We are in a Copenhagen café, as the Danish director takes a breather from the demanding preproduction for his next project, adapting Stieg Larsson’s bestselling mystery novel, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", shooting later this year in Stockholm with a Swedish cast. "The law says parents can't hit their children or sexually abuse them. You can’t mistreat them, but you are allowed to brainwash them all you want, whether in the name of communism, racism or any other fundamentalist thinking," Arden Oplev says. "Probably, that's not something you can legislate, but you can make a film raising concerns about what it leads to."Many films have been made about people drawn into various sects or cults," he says. "But there have not been a lot of films about what it means to be born into and grow up in a sect. What happens when that's all you've ever known and you're suddenly forced to add nuances to what you've learned? What do you do when your image of the world completely shatters and you have to survive?
"Worlds Apart" takes up those issues and, of course, I hope the film will generate debate."
After "We Shall Overcome", Arden Oplev was having a hard time deciding what film to do next, when the story for "Worlds Apart" came to him suddenly on an ordinary day in April 2006.
"I was reading a really good story in the paper, written like a gothic tale, about a girl, Tabita, who is expelled from the Jehovah's Witnesses. Her story really touched me," Arden Oplev says. "At the same time, I thought it would be exciting to do a story that had never been done on film before in Denmark. Her story was eminently suited for film, which deals with emotions much better than any piece of reporting ever can, no matter how well written. "As a filmmaker, I'm in a phase now where a story's emotions are very important, plus I’m interested in religious stories. My personal view of metaphysics is like the old Bergman quote: Your heart is religious, but your brain is atheistic. It's exciting to explore the relationship between reason and feelings. And after "We Shall Overcome" I felt it was important to find material that I could connect with emotionally," the director says. "What Tabita went through completely fascinated me."
Arden Oplev and his regular screenwriter Steen Bille got in touch with the two reporters who wrote the story, and they hooked them up with Tabita. Arden Oplev and Bille did a five-hour interview with her that became the raw material for the film.
"Once I had talked with Tabita, I knew I had to do this film," Arden Oplev says. "I was even more fascinated now, because there was so much going on in her story that we never would have thought of ourselves.
"Later, we obviously changed certain things to dramatise the story, like the part about denying someone a blood transfusion. In the film, Sara's friend dies after an accident. In real life, it was someone else, but we needed it to be someone we had connected with in the film to make it relevant to the main story. Such changes are always debatable when your film is based on a true story. How far can you go? I’m sure if you took apart "Erin Brockovich", you would find corners cut and things added," the filmmaker says.
Arden Oplev and Bille did extensive research into the Jehovah's Witnesses. They wanted their story to be as truthful as possible regarding the community's faith and way of life.
"We took great pains to represent their faith as correctly as possible," he says. "I talked with former Witnesses, I read their literature and visited their church. But of course, you have to deviate at certain points. We couldn't always stick to the exact format of a prayer meeting, for example. Someone is also bound to point out that all Witnesses aren’t as strict as the ones in this film, but I never said I was portraying one of the less orthodox families.
"The story has been condensed to a couple of months from a couple of years. We also chose to link two central Jehovah's Witness dogmas. One is that we are living in the last days. The other calls for expelling anyone who does not act correctly. Linking the two, expulsion equals a death sentence, since outcasts won't survive Armageddon and be part of a new and better world. We pushed that point. Some would say too hard. But for me, part of the reason for doing a film about the Jehovah's Witnesses was showing how those two dogmas bring things to a head – for everyone, but especially for the children," the director says.
"I do not presume to judge these people. I don't judge anyone. Personally, I think it's wrong of the father to cast out his own child, but I can't make myself the judge of why or how someone would make that decision, since I didn't grow up a Jehovah's Witness myself," he says.
"Ultimately, so many people end up doing the same things, believing the same things, as their parents. Say, becoming every bit as conservative as them," Arden Oplev says.
Sara, the lead, is played by Rosalinde Mynster, 17. For Arden Oplev, casting is always difficult, but especially so when having to rustle up fresh new faces.
"Casting is really hard and I’m completely neurotic about it," he says. "I still wake up in the middle of the night in an anxious sweat worrying about how "We Shall Overcome" would have turned out if we hadn't found Janus for the lead.
"Finding the right person to play Sara was just as tough, and just as crucial, because the acting is so central to this film. It's a completely simple, bare-bones story, with no car chases or anything else thrown in," Arden Oplev says. "I hadn't done a realistic film set in the present in a long time, and I found the filmic simplicity of everything hinging on the acting to be very attractive," he says.
"If the story had been told from another angle, it would have been 'just' another story about young love. But it's not, because a huge absurdity lurks in the middle of the apparent simplicity. Sara and Teis live in a parallel reality that only looks exactly like ours," the director says.
"On the face of it, Sara's family looks just like any other family. But beneath the seeming normality, there's a hidden layer of absurdity. Take the part where Sara and Elisabeth are reading with their younger brother August. They look like any other ordinary kids doing homework, except the subject they are studying is the end of the world and Jesus Christ as the commander of the heavenly armies!
"The family's fundamentalist Christian faith puts everyone under pressure," Arden Oplev says. "Perfectly normal, simple situations, like your daughter wanting to go to a party or meeting a boy, instead turn into insurmountable problems."
[from: The Danish Film Institute, 2008]