In the ‘How-to’ guide of film snobbery, claiming that “the original is better than the blockbuster” is a good way to set you out from the crowd as a true lover of cinema. Especially when the original is a little-known, foreign film – in which case, efforts must be made to constantly refer to the original title: extra kudos for applying an accent where necessary. So in the wake of Let Me/The Right One In (or Låt den rätte komma in for those paying attention), I have taken another recent example of Americanisation and provided an unbiased comparative study…though I have tried my utmost to flaunt my own film-snobbery.
Brodre is a low budget Danish film, released in 2004, that was remade by Hollywood half a decade later. With a star studded cast and dramatically increased budget, Brothers offers an almost shot-for-shot translation of the original. Both films centre around a father, who is called away for a UN mission in Afghanistan and supposedly killed, leaving his brother to take care of his wife and two children. The focus of the film is the return of the father and the altered dynamic with his family. The major differences between the two productions, whilst avoiding overt narrative alterations, take two broad forms: quality of the visual aesthetic and the choice of soundtrack over original score.
In line with the its national Danish movement of Dogme95, for which director Susanne Bier provided an installation, Brodre has a home video aesthetic – whether it be a stylistic choice or budgetary demand. Its American counterpart provides a more crisp image that is more familiar to studio audiences. The quality of the visuals is undoubtedly improved with finance and subsequently less distracting to those who expect this mainstream cinematic feel. However, the soundtrack of Brothers replaces a continuous score in favour of segmented licensed music. The affect of which reverses all efforts to prevent alienation in the visuals.
Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen, the co-writers of the Brodre, have collaborated several times and both have worked with the central actors too. Jensen’s more personal projects, whether he was the sole writer or attributed director, tend to feature a darkly comic tone that sets them apart from his other bodies of work. And though the subject matter can be farcical (Adam’s Apples, Green Butchers) they are set in a real context where most characters have serious emotions and play them dead-pan. It is this element that works to compliment Susanne Bier’s films, often dealing with extreme yet realistic conditions – with a thematic tendency to focus on a disrupted family unit. Bier and Jenson’s After The Wedding in particular resonates with Brodre in the context of a mother having to move on after the death of her husband, attempting to maintain a family structure. The similarities between these two films extend to a score provided by Johan Söderqvist that aids the growth of the characters.
The music in both Bier and Jensen’s films usually works to build a connection with the protagonist by mirroring the emotions they experience, with powerful use of reflective silence. The themes of Brodre are that of paranoia, doubt, mistrust and guilt which are represented musically through a reccurring minimalist strings piece of music. Reminiscent of the poignantly used ‘Iguazu’ by Gustavo Santaolalla (in films such as Yes, Collateral, The Insider), a melancholic reflection provides heightened suspense for an empathetic audience. Often crescendoing at times of internal emotion, the mere appearance of this score under the diegetic sound leads to the expectation of externalised, dramatic action – at times even drowning out the dialogue within a scene.
In Brothers the samples of music serve as an unsubtle guide as to which emotion the audience should be feeling. Equipped with a temporary and exaggerated tone the audience are reminded of the films artificial construction. With juxtaposed scenes that have genred soundtracks of romantic comedy or war drama, the film plays as a series of trailers – condensing the levels of emotion in each character to be expressed as happy or sad with correlating music. A by-product of these condensed segments is that the characters are separated: each taking their own narrative and respective tone. Whereas, the continuous re-emergence of the score in Brodre creates a bond between the characters; so while the father figure of the film is seen as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, he remains untethered from the home-life of his wife, children and brother. As alternating scenes of Afghanistan and Denmark are shown, they are strung together through this unifying soundtrack, therefore directly impacting the audiences ability to understand the characters’ complex emotions.
While the music appears to be the one, albeit important, weakness of the remake – it does not answer the question as to whether it was worth the trouble of remaking. If the sound design had been a little more gentle and a little less condescending would it have warranted translation? The message of the film isn’t transformed, which is somewhat surprising given the content of the war in Afghanistan. So is Hollywood simply capitalising on a promising idea or trying to make the film more accessible? – it is assumed that subtitles alienate after all. Plus there is an added star quality with recognisable actors: Spiderman, Darko and Queen Amadala may bring their own respective audiences. But even if this film is just aiming for monetary success – it is enjoyable as a standalone piece of cinema. The answer to the question of American remakes is not as straightforward as we’d like to think in this case. However, you can expect some loud tutting in the queue for Fincher’s reworking of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo later this year…I’ll be working on my Swedish pronunciation.