Judge Ben Saylor was disappointed to find out that After the Wedding was not a sequel to Brett Ratner's After the Sunset.
Champagne is poured…secrets are spilled.
Danish director Susanne Bier once again teams with screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen for After the Wedding, a well-shot, sharply acted melodrama that strains credulity a bit too often but is still a worthwhile film.
Facts of the Case
Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale) runs an orphanage in India. He is devoted to his work, but there's no money coming in to aid his efforts. Faced with the probability of being shut down, Jacob is made an offer by a Danish businessman to finance the operation. The only catch is that Jacob must journey to Copenhagen, where he has not been for years, to meet the potential benefactor in person. Very reluctantly, Jacob agrees to make the trip.
Once there, he meets Jorgen (Rolf Lassgård), a self-made man who tells Jacob he needs some time to think about whether he wants to support the orphanage. In the meantime, he invites Jacob to attend his daughter's wedding, which he agrees to (again) reluctantly. Once there, Jacob is shocked to run into Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Jorgen's wife, who was in a relationship with Jacob years earlier. This is the first of many revelations as the connections and secrets the characters have kept from each other are gradually revealed.
Jam-packed with secrets and revelations, After the Wedding had the potential to be an emotional overload. Thankfully, a strong cast and Bier's skillful direction (mostly) prevent this from happening.
In the kind of film where overwrought performances would have been positively fatal, Bier's cast, barring a misstep here and there, is essentially flawless in its subtlety and restraint. Let's start with Mikkelsen, whose haunted, conflicted portrayal of Jacob is very well-suited to the intricacies of his character. We see his compassion for the orphans under his care, his anxiety over getting Jorgen to give him the money to continue his work and his anguish and frustration following certain revelations that come out of his reunion with Helene. Mikkelsen's perpetually melancholic features enhance Jacob's serious, sad nature; the casting here was spot-on.
Knudsen is also excellent as Helene, particularly in the scene where she first spots Jacob, arriving late for the wedding ceremony. Through a series of quick cuts, we see Jacob in the back, looking off at nothing in particular, and Helene, sitting near the front, glancing back repeatedly in surprise and disbelief at her former lover's presence. However, in the wedding scenes that follow, Helene, while clearly affected by Jacob's return, keeps herself under control (at least until Jacob initiates one of the movie's many verbal showdowns).
Knudsen's eyes are very striking in what they reveal in her character, including her concern for her daughter and Jorgen (for reasons I won't spoil here) and her frustration/confusion regarding Jacob's return. Thanks to Bier's jumpy editing and fondness for extreme close-ups, we get to see a lot of those eyes.
Stine Fischer Christensen is worth a mention as Anna, the woman whose wedding Jacob attends. She imbues the role of a pampered daughter with a surprising depth and poignancy.
However, Lassgård arguably has the toughest job of all as Jorgen. His character is difficult to read, because out of everyone in the film, he is the one who conceals the most. Why must Jacob meet him in Copenhagen? Why is he so insistent that Jacob attend his daughter's wedding? Did he know about Jacob and Helene's history? His behavior is contradictory; one minute he's happily playing with his twin boys, the next he's going on an embarrassing public bender, all while keeping a hidden agenda (just how hidden will be discussed later).
For the most part, Lassgård is up to the task, although Bier kind of lets him get out of hand toward the end with some over-the-top moments. Otherwise, his gregarious yet aloof take on the character helps maintain some ambiguity about Jorgen.
Bier's shooting style is an asset as well. The director keeps the camera moving with lots of handheld shots, which help keep the tension up without getting too jumpy. Bier uses a lot of close-ups as well, especially extreme close-ups, like on character's eyes (as mentioned earlier). These are especially effective in the film's many one-on-one confrontations between characters; you can see the teardrop forming in a character's eye. The DV cinematography always looks sharp; even the nighttime scenes are decent.
Jump cuts are also skillfully employed; make no mistake, this is a very well-crafted film. While her overall style isn't very effective in the more quiet scenes of the film, it does give the film a documentary feel that helps keep the tone of the movie from veering toward the overly sentimental.
The disc includes a reasonably interesting interview with Bier (conducted by critic Morten Piil) that runs a little over 20 minutes, as well as eight deleted scenes that Bier (rightly) explains were cut because they were either redundant or detracted from the main storyline. The film's theatrical trailer is also included, as well as some previews that come before the DVD's menu that are very annoying in that the "menu" button doesn't work, meaning each one has to be skipped individually.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said, while the film generally stays grounded despite all the emotions coursing through it, After the Wedding still reeks of contrivance at times. At least two of the Big Revelations of this movie are spelled out in blatantly obvious dialogue that sucks all the subtlety out of the movie. Because the movie is generally understated (relatively speaking, given its melodrama trappings), it's jarring when these moments arrive. One such line pretty much reveals Jorgen's hidden agenda, and it comes with about 45 minutes still left in the movie. This lets the air out of the balloon way too early, and as a consequence I found the rest of the movie much less interesting. The film's resolution also feels way too pat and calculated; the seams are beginning to show way too much by this point.
The film is also lazy when it comes to some supporting characters. The only thing we know about Jorgen's mother by the end of the movie, for example, is that she likes to play poker online (Ooh, a quirk! That makes her unique! Oh, wait, no it doesn't, it's just a half-hearted attempt at characterization.).
After the Wedding boasts strong acting and direction, but is sometimes derailed by a faulty script that doesn't always trust the viewer enough to connect the dots. If you go into the film keeping its flaws in mind, you will be likely to enjoy what you see.
Bier and her cast are not guilty, but Jensen is strongly cautioned to avoid similar contrivances in future scripts.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• A Conversation with Director Susanne Bier (22:37)
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