Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier knows how to make an effective melodrama. Families torn apart seem to be her specialty; she very well might do it better than anyone. Her 2002 Dogme film Open Hearts tells the story of an engaged couple torn apart after one of the lovers is paralyzed in an accident. Brothers (2004) explores the relationship between siblings after one of them returns from the war in Afghanistan to find that his younger brother has fallen in love with his wife. Her latest, the Oscar-nominated After The Wedding amps the family drama even higher. Secrets are revealed. Tears are shed. One revelation leads to the next, but never once does the story seem gratuitous.
Mads Mikkelson (known in the U.S. as the villain who drips bloody tears in Casino Royale
) plays Jacob, an earnest man, a teacher and manager of a school for orphaned boys in India. He reluctantly returns to Denmark when a prospective donor offers significant funding. This donor, Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), essentially entraps Jacob, entreating him first to come to his daughter's wedding, and later, employing fearsome powers of manipulation, to stay in the country.
Something enormous happens at what initially appears to be a typical wedding--the first secret that sets the story in motion. It's plainly written on the face of Jørgen's beautiful wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) when she lays eyes on the last minute guest. The discoveries are delicious shocks, intricate pieces to a puzzle I won't rob you the joy of learning.
Fair game: mention of the tremendous cast who prevents the narrative from slipping into soap opera territory. Mikkelson's lean figure and tight facial bone structure mirror his rigid character. Lassgård, a heavy, good looking man, is a convincing force of nature. He uses the heft of his weight and substantial wealth to control everyone who comes into his orbit. As the woman loved by two men, Knudsen brings complexity to what could have been a merely passive role. Stine Fischer Christensen glows as the impetuous twenty-year-old marrying daughter; the young actress is extraordinarily lovely, and hopefully we'll see more of her in the future.