One of five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars, the Danish film After the Wedding is essentially a melodrama, that intensely cinematic subgenre marked by florid emotions and reality-flaunting plot contortions. But, with director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen each boasting roots in the bare-bones "Dogme" movement started by fellow Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, this is a melodrama set against a naturalistic, vérité-style backdrop. (It is not, technically, a Dogme film, flaunting many of that exhausted movement's restrictions, such as Bier using a score to prod viewer's emotions.) Shot in handheld digital-video (albeit with a richer, more colorful look than any of von Trier's Dogme films), After the Wedding tells its story with an intense palette of extreme close-ups and restless jump cuts.
The protagonist here is Jacob, a Danish man living in India working at an orphanage. Mads Mikkelsen, whom most viewers will recognize more readily for having playing the bloody-teared villain in last year's Casino Royale, plays Jacob. Freed to be a recognizable human being, Mikkelsen gives a scruffier, more soulful performance here and comes off looking like a Danish Viggo Mortensen.
After the Wedding's credit sequence deftly and movingly gives a sense of what Jacob's daily existence in India is like: feeding swarming children from vats of rice and rounding some children up for school classes. Meanwhile, the camera swings promiscuously, documenting seemingly unstaged street scenes of Third World destitution.
In a meeting with one of his superiors at the orphanage, Jacobs learns of a wealthy benefactor back in Denmark who is willing to donate the money needed to keep the orphanage from closing. The catch: The man insists that Jacob come to Copenhagen to personally negotiate the deal. Jacob, who seems to hate rich people and doesn't want to risk missing the upcoming birthday party for his young charge, Pramod, is reluctant. He complains that he doesn't want to travel all the way to Denmark just to "shake some rich guy's hand so he can take a picture and put in on the wall to show his friends what a good guy he is."
Once in Denmark, Jacob meets with billionaire JØrgen (Rolf Lassgård), a blowsy captain-of-industry type who stalls on the agreement, insisting that Jacob keep himself busy by attending the wedding of JØrgen's daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen).
At the wedding, Jacob discovers that JØrgen's wife, Helene (Sidse Babbett Knudsen), is his own former flame, his breakup with whom presumably provoked him to flee Denmark a couple of decades prior. If you think this is all a bit too coincidental, you'd be right. And this suspicion grows stronger when Anna drops an accidental bombshell during her toast, ahem, after the wedding.
From this set-up, Bier and Jensen concoct a soap opera — a web of personal motivations and emotional confrontations — that is underscored by tough moral and political dilemmas, particularly for Jacob, whose commitment to his Indian orphanage is compromised by the powerful pull of personal complications back home in Denmark. The result is a stirring drama of abandonment and connection that offers no easy answers.
After the Wedding
Opens Friday, May 11th
Studio on the Square