After the Wedding (2006)

Director: Susanne Bier

2007 European Union Film Festival

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By Kathryn Ware

I love a movie that takes my expectations, shakes them around for a couple of hours, and ushers me out of the theater thoroughly and pleasantly surprised. A film that blazes a new trail, as opposed to following a well-trod path, is all too rare and cause for celebration in my book.

After the Wedding is just such a film. Director Susanne Bier (who co-wrote the film with Anders Thomas Jensen) has crafted a tightly wound drama that twists and turns without ever feeling contrived, and earned the Danish film a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination this past year.
The story centers on Jacob, a Danish ex-pat working at an Indian orphanage on the verge of shutting its doors. The children’s last hope lies with Jorgen, a Danish businessman who offers millions, but on one condition: that Jacob himself come to Copenhagen and shake hands on the deal. Why has Jorgen made such a personal request? And why is Jacob so reluctant to return to Copenhagen? These are just the first of many small mysteries that fuel the narrative.

Jacob arrives in Denmark where he’s set up in a posh hotel penthouse suite, a fish out of water among all the modern conveniences so foreign to his impoverished life in India. Awkward in a new suit and clutching a video tape of the children he hopes to save, he’s ill at ease during his first meeting with Jorgen, a confident man of wealth and power used to calling the shots, both professionally and personally. Jacob is lean, ruggedly handsome, and serious. We rarely see him smile. Jorgen is a large, gregarious man in the style of all successful businessmen who eat, drink, and socialize well. He talks more than he listens and rattles Jacob with his apparent lack of interest in Jacob’s earnest presentation. What, exactly, is his game?
When Jorgen makes the strange and seemingly innocuous request that Jacob attend his daughter’s wedding, the game, so to speak, is afoot.

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Arriving late to the ceremony, Jacob recognizes someone from his past and then a secret revealed at the reception pulls the rug out from under him, casting his trip in an entirely different light. What follows is a compelling personal drama that eludes expectation. As one revelation dominoes into another, Jacob is led to a moral decision with ramifications felt halfway around the world.

It’s no disappointment to the audience that the “big reveal” comes early on in the story; there’s so much more to follow, holding our attention as we watch these characters grapple with each new development. The camera that frequently lingers on extreme close-ups of characters’ faces—especially the eyes—combined with a somber soundtrack, creates an air of uncertainty. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it did, I was deeply moved.

Mad Mikkelsen (the bad guy poker player in Casino Royale) admirably carries the film on Jacob’s shoulders. Rolf Lassgard (as Jorgen) is wonderful in a role that easily could have had him chewing scenery at every turn. Sidse Babett Knudsen (as Jorgen’s wife Helene) and Stine Fischer Christensen (as his newlywed daughter) round out the fine ensemble. The strength and honesty of this acting quartet keeps the film from sinking in melodramatic waters. l

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