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Danish film deserves its Oscar nomination

By Philip Martin

This article was published May 18, 2007 at 3:35 a.m.

helene-sidse-babett-knudsen-shares-romantic-memories-with-jacob-mads-mikkelsen-in-after-the-wedding

Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) shares romantic memories with Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) in After the Wedding.

— While Susanne Bier has been working in her native Denmark for many years, this is only her third film to make any sort of international impression. Based on what I've seen of her work, she seems to have a fascination with fractured and recombined families.

In Open Hearts, her 2002 Dogme 95 film - the rules of the Dogme "manifesto" against "artistically contrived films" require, among other things, that the movie be shot with a handheld camera and that no unnatural lighting be used - the fiancee of a man paralyzed in a car accident falls in love with the doctor who treats him, who happens to be the husband of the woman who ran the fiancee down.

In the excellent Brothers (2004), the wife of a Danish soldier believed killed in Afghanistan finds comfort and support from her husband's ex-con younger brother.

And in After the Wedding (nominated for a best foreign language Oscar earlier this year) expatriate Dane Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), working in an Indian orphanage, returns to Copenhagen on a fundraising mission and is coerced into attending the wedding of the daughter of a billionaire potential patron. It turns out the mother of the bride (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is an old flame who abandoned him in India after he betrayed her with her best friend. And at the reception, the bride announces to all assembled that her dad is not her biological father after all.

Though her work is gritty and naturalistic, Bier specializes in soap opera - melodramas of large emotion and wild coincidences. So when you read that her Hollywood debut, Things We Lost in the Fire, the Halle Berry-Benecio De Toro interracial romance story about a woman with two children who, after her husband dies, takes up with his best friend, you shouldn't wonder how she got the gig.

That all sounds more dismissive than it should. After the Wedding, for all its contrived circumstances and sometimes disconcerting camerawork (Biers fell in love with extreme close-ups that reveal only part of a character's face, usually one eye and part of a nose and cheek) is a highly entertaining film that manages to be brutally honest about human motivation and the compromises we're willing to make to hold onto the people we love for as long as we can.

Mikkelsen, maybe the biggest star in Denmark (and best known here for playing Le Chiffre in last year's Casino Royale), has a sculpted, battered face that perfectly fits his redemption-seeking character, but there's not a wasted gesture or false moment in the entire film. Bier's plots are perhaps too intricate and delicate to be genuinely believed, but that hardly matters; they're only put up to be burned down.

MovieStyle, Pages 43 on 05/18/2007

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