Efter brylluppet

(After the Wedding, Denmark/Sweden - 2006)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgard, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen
Genre: Drama
Director: Susanne Bier
Screenplay: Susanne Bier & Anders Thomas Jensen
Cinematography: Stine Hein, Ole Kragh-Jacobsen, Morton Soborg, Otto Stenov
Composer: Johan Soderqvist
Runtime: 120 minutes

Melancholic earnest idealist Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) leaves the orphanage he runs in India, and in a sense hides out in, to return to his native Denmark and be toyed with by fat wealthy money dangling Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), though in a far different manner than expects. After the disintegration of his relationship with the love of his life Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) 20-years-ago, Jacob eventually put his life back together in some sense by melding his charitable work with his personal life, making the needy orphans everything. Suddenly he surmises he’s been summoned back because Helene is the wife of the orphanage’s would be benefactor, and Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), the fragile 20-year-old daughter he never knew he had with her is getting married the next day.

When the subject is lovers reuniting in any sense, the narrative has to honestly deal with what kept them apart and/or what’s bringing them back together, the pain and/or the forgiveness. Unfortunately, Suzanne Bier and Denmark’s most well known screenwriter abroad Anders Thomas Jensen would rather divert our attention to whom is playing puppet master and why, as if they were up late one night watching David Fincher’s The Game and decided to suddenly turn their drama into a mystery thriller. They sidestep issues to the point the character the entire story revolves around, Helene, remains on the sidelines as some kind of unremorseful, manipulative, and assuming mystery while everyone attempts to determine the proper way to finally deal with decisions she made two decades ago.

After the Wedding is thought provoking because it makes us consider how the information one conceals is capable of altering the course of many lives, for better and worse. It’s good largely because it leaves out so many details, building scenes not around obvious plot points but allowing the audience to flush out what it’s really about because, as in real life, it’s rarely stated. This isn’t a lightweight film, but even though there are several impressively awkward moments it lacks the intensity that made Ingmar Bergman’s family dramas work so well. We never get the idea that at any moment a character could choose to shred another with a bitter and biting remark, they are often too perplexed by the course of events set in motion to know whether they want things to work or end.

Though on paper the situations may often be comparable to those found in dope operas, Bier’s film is largely worthwhile for constantly frustrating our expectations and failing to deliver the convenient payoffs. Jensen denies his characters the requisite dialogue, giving them strained interactions that are more like unstated negotiations, where at least one character remains confused anyway. Often someone will try to make the situation work their way, but the other will end up refusing. This is particularly true when jolly but extremely stubborn Jorgen tries to force everyone to do things his way because he’s dead certain it’s the best, and cold unaccommodating Jacob either recoils or releases some of his pent up frustration and innate distrust for affluent people’s will and whims.

Relatively speaking, the characters are equally admirable and pathetic. Jacob is doing a great thing for the children, whom he’s very good with, but a part of his being has been shut down to the point he’s otherwise almost unable to give adults any reason to like him. Jorgen is something of his opposite, honorable with Jacob’s daughter and able to make everyone (but Jacob) take to him but so skillful in leveraging his money to achieve his ends it’s hard to trust him given his capability of (and sometimes propensity for) forcing you to make the “choice” he desires for you.

After the Wedding is a highly compelling film that doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. When delicate Anna’s husband cheats on her you’d think she’d finally understand why her mom left Jacob, but instead she runs to him. It’s nice for Anna to know her real father, as you can never have enough good family members (if you find out they aren’t, don’t hesitate to avoid), but the idea a rich married woman needs a father more than a poor orphan child (Jacob has raised the now 8-year-old Pramod since birth) is nauseating. Several aspects of this story wouldn’t exactly make my manifesto of how to live your life, but when a film isn’t preaching morality it can still be interesting and worthwhile even though half the time you personally disagree with the decisions the characters are making.


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