Eugene Weekly : Movie Review : 6.21.07


A man of few words faces the dilemma of his life

AFTER THE WEDDING: Directed by Susanne Bier. Written by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen. Cinematography, Stine Hein, Ole-Kragh Jacobsen, Morten Søborg and Otto Stenov. Music, Johan Söderqvist. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Stine Fischer Christensen. IFC Films, 2007. R. 120 minutes. In Danish, Swedish, Hindi and English, with English subtitles.

Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) in After the Wedding

When we first meet Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) in the ghettos of Bombay, he seems a peaceable sort. When he isn’t distributing food to needy children or teaching them classroom English, he’s raising Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani), a hushed boy from the orphanage where Jacob works. Yet sadness hangs about Jacob like dust. His orphanage is about to go broke, but Jacob’s pain is older and less material than that, as evinced by the occasional flashback of a woman’s fingers stroking his arm in low light. Wounded and intense, Jacob hurts. His moral clarity is undeniable, but there’s something burning at the edges. He behaves like a saint, but he has the face of the sinner.

To save the orphanage, Jacob flies to Copenhagen to meet Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), a philanthropist interested in Jacob’s work. Jørgen is a paradoxical figure, generous but distant: He seems completely disinterested in the orphanage itself but insists Jacob attend his daughter’s wedding the next day. (For both men, it seems, acts of charity don’t bring peace.) Touchingly, Jacob is a stranger in his own country, particularly during the lavish ceremony, after which he learns some shocking news: Jørgen’s wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is Jacob’s ex-lover. And as if the odds weren’t long enough, the young bride may be Jacob’s daughter.

Savvy readers will recognize the signposts: We’ve crossed the boundary from drama into melodrama. There’s no denying that the emotions in After the Wedding are huge, and coincidence is central to the overall story. But director Susanne Bier (Brothers) knows her material, which she executes magnificently. Bier manages to contain the melodrama, keeping it situational — that is, in the events rather than the performances — while at the same time soliciting four lead performances that are nothing less than superb. Of course, whether coincidence explains Jacob’s arrival is up to you. Jørgen never admits to purposely luring Jacob to Denmark, not even when Jørgen reveals a crisis of his own. A crisis, as it happens, only Jacob can solve.

An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language film of 2006, After the Wedding is a beautifully photographed film, using a fitful but delicate style to alight upon the hands, lips and eyes of the principal actors. There are occasional cuts to fields of wilting vegetation, as if to underscore the life-and-death issues within the film (although the motif of the dead fox was probably one element too many). The film’s many revelations are felt rather than shown. Nowhere is this more true than the final scene, a moment of subtle power that elevates what is already a distinguished work of art.