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April 20, 2007

Movie Review – After the Wedding (2007)


After the Wedding 042007

After the Wedding is a Danish film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars. It is directed by Susanne Bier, whose first American film, Things We Lost in the Fire, comes out later this year. This is one of those films could have struck me in a lot of different ways, depending on my mood. The movie is balanced on a tightrope, trying for deep emotional impact without drifting into melodrama. When the film works, the result is utterly gripping and moving, an emotional tour de force that has the potential to destroy us. But, occasionally the film falters and when the film is bad, it is quite bad. We wonder if we would be better served scanning our television for the latest straight-to-basic cable flick.

Mads Mikkelsen, best known to American audiences for playing Le Chiffre in the latest James Bond film Casino Royale, plays Jacob, who runs an orphanage in India which is on the verge of closing. He is contacted by Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), a wealthy businessman who proposes to fund the orphanage, but wants to meet Jacob in person first. Jacob returns to Copenhagen to find that Jørgen is quite evasive about the funding. Then, strangely, Jørgen invites Jacob to his daughter’s wedding, where Jacob discovers that he knows Jørgen’s wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), from many years earlier. Jørgen’s daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), also has a significant role.

All of this occurs early, but it is best if you don’t know any more, as the frequent dramatic twists are one of the essential elements of the film. The constantly shifting plot is both a strength and a weakness in the film. On one hand, it keeps the audience engaged, knowing that another revelation is just around the corner. On the other hand, the early plot twists provide enough dramatic material to carry us through the rest of the film that the later turns seem superfluous.

The intense drama in the film is tempered by some humorous, yet awkward, dialogue. The characters, especially Jørgen, have the tendency to make inappropriate and strange remarks. We laugh at these scenes somewhat uncomfortably as we are not sure how the characters will react. Fortunately, despite all that happens, the characters are fairly good-natured and can take a joke. The awkwardness of these scenes is actually quite appropriate because the situations in the film are off-kilter. It lets us feel the discomfort and claustrophobia that the characters are feeling. I am sure we have all been in a situation where we have tried to lighten an overly serious moment with a joke that feels like it is trying to hard, and that is exactly what we have here. Of course, I wonder if my analysis of the humor in this film is actually off-base because I am not accounting for possible cultural differences between the United States and Denmark, but I will go out on a limb and say that the laughs were intentional.

Despite the film’s flaws, we have, at the heart of this film, a good story with interesting characters. It is well-acted all around, though in a few moments during the film, I think Bier could have selected takes with a little more subtlety, rather than the most over-the-top performances by the actors. But, those are just some of the moments where the film does not work. Fortunately, in the end, we have more good than bad.

3 stars