By Amy Lamare, April 13, 2007
The Oscar nominated film After the Wedding (AFWED) is a well crafted drama about how choices, changes, secrets and revelations affect everything in a person’s life. The dramatic situations and convoluted relationships in this story could have easily turned into a film filled with clichés and examples of the worst of human interaction. Danish director Suzanne Bier handled each individual situation delicately and wove it into a strong film that delights in its unexpected moments of pure humor.
Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen (MMIKK) plays Jacob, a Dane who runs an orphanage in India. He is preparing to return to Denmark to meet a benefactor named Jorgen (Swedish thesp Rolf Lassgard) who has pledged to donate a large sum of money with one caveat: Jacob must come to Denmark to get it. Well our boy Jacob is clearly taking one for the team, as the reason for his reluctance to return to his homeland is a mystery to the audience at this point. The children of the orphanage clearly love Jacob and vice versa. Despite promising his kids that he would return soon, it is obvious there are skeletons in his closet back home.
In Copenhagen we get to know Jorgen and his wife Helene in a touching scene that takes place in the bathtub. He is arrogant, but a bit charming. The director goes far to show this character’s softer side. He is not all big bad billionaire benefactor, he’s a father and husband too, one who is preparing for the wedding of his daughter Anne.
Jorgen informs Jacob that he hasn’t completely made up his mind to donate money and he needs a few days to think about it. He insists Jacob attend his daughter’s wedding. Jacob reluctantly agrees.
The emotional cues and foreshadowing are all heavy handed but still manage to work. We knew in the scenes in India that Jacob had “a past” in Denmark he wasn’t eager to revisit. It does not come as much of a surprise when at the wedding Jacob and Helene recognize each other.
Note that the title of this movie is After the Wedding. These scenes are actually the build up to the meat of the story. The events at the wedding set in motion the maelstrom of revelations, changes and choices the characters face for the rest of the film. No one’s coming out of that wedding the same.
The film is a melodrama but there is something delightful about the bizarre circumstances that force the characters to show real emotion. Like a train wreck, we started off on one course. It seemed this would be an average ride, but it went abruptly off course. How each character gets back on course is fascinating.
After the Wedding does not offer answers or wrap up its story in a neat little ending. Instead it is an exploration of the search for answers, the desire for meaning and truth. What we thought was true, was not. The more noble choice turns out to be the more selfish one. What is responsibility?
Scripter Anders Thomas Jensen knows how to avoid the traps of melodrama — he and Bier previously collaborated on the excellent Open Hearts and Brothers — and how to take the cliches of the genre and use them to further develop the characters.
Bier and d.p. Morten Soborg create an uncomfortable sense of intimacy through the use of extreme close-ups. Feelings of unease are also heightened by many quick shots of trees and flowers in silhouette against the sky, plus Swedish composer Johan Soderqvist’s provides the foreboding score.
Mikkelsen, who played the lead in Open Hearts, makes Jacob a man torn apart by his loneliness and memories of the past, and convincingly portrays the anger beneath his outward calm. Lassgard is also tops, making Jorgen initially unsympathetic but gradually layered. Knudsen is fine and, as Anna, newcomer Christensen holds her own against the three vets.
After The Wedding is currently in limited release.
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