Worlds Apart

Worlds Apart


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Meet Sara. She's a friendly, bright girl who loves her mum and dad, her sister and her little brother. She works hard at school, enjoys spending time with her friends, and occasionally likes to go out and party. She's also just at that age where she's ready to fall head over heels for the right young man. But Sara is also a Jehovah's Witness, and when she falls for Teis, an unbeliever, her whole world turns upside down.

Denmark's entry for this year's Oscars, Worlds Apart is an assured, confident little film which takes a nuanced approach to a complex subject. Although it ultimately positions itself in opposition to them, Jehovah's Witnesses watching it will find that an unusual degree of effort has been made to represent their views fairly and to illustrate the positive things that their community has to offer.

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It is, in fact, the very attractiveness of this community that makes it so hard for Sara as she tries to find a way of balancing competing priorities, and as she gradually comes to wrestle with the question of faith. Teis is extraordinarily patient (this is one of those cases where we have to remind ourselves it's based on a true story to believe it), but the church elders reject completely the idea of her dating an unbeliever, and the penalty for going against their word is utter rejection - in Sara's case, rejection by almost everyone she's ever known.

The difficulty with this film stems from the fact that it's hard to examine such extreme attitudes without coming across as heavy-handed, and there's one incident in particular where, though the story may simply be sticking to the facts, it seems itself to go to extremes to make its point. The topic of indoctrination is certainly a worthy subject for exploration, but it is best dealt with here in subtler moments such as Sara's hasty words to her little brother, not in expository speeches over the dinner table or potted explanations to strangers. The images of large gatherings work well, suggesting both pleasure in community and a creepy kind of crowd psychology, but the film struggles to maintain this delicate balance throughout.

With solid if unremarkable performances (the exception being Jens Jørn Spottag, who is excellent as Sara's troubled father), Worlds Apart has an almost documentary feel. It's been slightly mis-sold, treated as a simple love story when it's really much more about the clash of worlds within Sara's experience, but it is certainly intriguing and it provides a fascinating insight into a world most of us will be quite unfamiliar with. Though it doesn't completely succeed at what it sets out to do, it's still highly watchable.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2009
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Worlds Apart packshot
The world of a dutiful daughter and Jehovah's Witness unravels when she falls for a non-believer.

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Writer: Niels Arden Oplev

Starring: Rosalinde Mynster, Pilou Asbæk, Jens Jørn Spottag, Sarah Boberg, Sarah Juel Werner, Anders W. Berthelsen

Year: 2008

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: Denmark

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