"Three and a half stars (R)
In the Best Foreign-Language Film category at this year’s Academy Awards, most of the press went to the darkly surreal Pan’s Labyrinth and The Lives of Others, the character study/political drama that won the Oscar. Receiving scant attention was the Danish nominee After the Wedding (Efter Bryllupet), by celebrated filmmaker Susanne Bier.
After the Wedding is about an outsider who lands smack in the middle of a family’s drama. Make that melodrama, actually, but don’t stop reading, because while the plot of the movie sounds like it escaped from a soap opera, the film doesn’t feel excessively theatrical.
Thank director Bier and cinematographer Morton Soborg for that. They use a lot of close-ups of eyes, more than I can recall seeing outside of silent films, and numerous quick cuts to trees, chandelier crystals and other seemingly incongruous objects. Coupled with unconventional camera moves and abrupt edits, they create a sense of intimacy and edgy immediacy.
Add a low-key, sometimes ominous score by Johan Soderqvist and spot-on performances from a robust cast and you have a movie that navigates through heavily emotional material without succumbing to Days of Our Lives-itis.
The story begins in India, where Danish expatriate Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) works in an orphanage. He takes care of many children, but is closest to his unofficially adopted son, an 8-year-old charmer named Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani).
Mads Mikkelsen, incidentally, is the one performer in the film with whom you may be familiar. A huge star in Denmark, he played Le Chiffre, the villainous gambler in Casino Royale.
The orphanage is desperate for money and Jacob is forced to return to his homeland to meet with a prospective donor. He tries so hard to avoid the trip that you just know something in his past will return to smack him in the kisser.
Back in Copenhagen (after promising Pramod he’ll be back in a few days for the kid’s birthday) and settled in an extravagant hotel suite that still manages to appear depressing, he meets with potential benefactor Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard). Jorgen is a filthy-rich developer, a fleshy fellow accustomed to getting exactly what he wants.
Jacob wants to kiss ass, get the dough and return to India as soon as possible, but Jorgen stretches out the process with booze-fueled socialization before informing Jacob he’ll need a few days to weigh the orphanage proposal against some other charitable possibilities.
Jorgen’s daughter is getting married over the weekend and the fat cat bullies Jacob into attending the ceremony. The impatient ex-pat meets Jorgen’s daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), her toady fiancé, Christian (Christian Tafdrup), who works for his father-in-law-to-be, and Jorgen’s wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen). That’s all I can tell you, except that when Jacob first encounters one of the characters, we get some major meaningful close-ups of their eyes.
I’ve withheld any of the film’s melodramatic revelations, but you should understand that the payoff of After the Wedding comes not from the revelations, but from how the characters respond to them. The circumstances may be extreme, but the emotions are genuine.