Thursday, April 19, 2007

White Man's Burden: After the Wedding

After the Wedding / Efter brylluppet
(Susan Bier, Denmark, rated R, 119 mins.)

after the wedding.jpg
Jacob after the wedding

Susan Bier's Oscar-nominated ninth is two films in one. I have mixed feelings
about both. On the one hand, it's a domestic drama. On the other, it's a comment on Third World poverty. Mostly, though, it's an old fashioned melodrama.

Just as the Iraq War provided the backdrop to Brothers (2004), Indian orphans provide the backdrop to After the Wedding. But just as Brothers was more concerned with post-traumatic stress disorder, regardless as to the cause, After the Wedding
is more concerned with guilt and denial...regardless as to the cause.

Consequently, the orphanage scenes that book-end the film feel more like atmosphere than a serious exploration of a major issue. This happens in a
lot of well meaning Western films, and it always makes me uncomfortable.
The movie's real subject is Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, who last worked with Bier in 2002's Open Hearts). He's a Danish aid worker who moved to Bombay 20 years ago and never looked back. But it could've easily been anywhere with photogenic kids.
Jørgen gets what he wants
As it turns out, Jacob's reasons for relocating were more hedonistic than altruistic,
but now he truly cares about his charges, and has little interest in the West.
Despite his best efforts to leave it all behind, the outside world comes calling
in the form of entrepreneur Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), who offers to infuse his
faltering orphanage with four million dollars if he'll fly back to Copenhagen to
make a case for the funds -- all expenses paid, of course. So, he does, but it's
obvious his potential benefactor isn't really listening to his well rehearsed pitch.
Then Jørgen invites him to his daughter Anna's wedding. Jacob would prefer not to involve himself in this man's personal affairs, but if that's what it takes, he'll do it.
At the wedding, Jacob is shocked to find that Jørgen is married to his ex-girlfriend, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Jorgen swears he had no idea. Helene accompanied Jacob to India all those years ago, but returned to Europe when things got too weird.
Then Jacob gets a good look at Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), puts two and two together, and figures out his connection to Jørgen. It pisses him off. By the end
of the movie, he'll know why he was really invited to Denmark. As he suspects, it doesn't have much to do with the orphanage. And that's true of the film, as well.
Jørgen comforts Anna
I was tempted to end there, but that would be disingenious. The thing is, I like Susan Bier's movies. I have problems with Anders Thomas Jensen's overly-
schematic screenplays, but tend to get caught up in their machinations anyway.
Jensen also provided the scripts for Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Mifune, and The
King is Alive
, and wrote and directed last year's Adam's Apples (clearly, he likes
to write for Mikkelsen). As for Bier, she's an excellent director of actors, and the entire Wedding ensemble rises to the occasion, especially Mikkelsen, Knudsen,
and Lassgård. (Christensen isn't bad, but she's outclassed by the three veterans.)
Some critics don't like the way Bier gets in tight on faces, but I don't mind. It's not as if she turns them into gargoyles (which actually works in David Lynch's favor). I think she just wants us to be with them in the moment, and the actors pull it off.
Naturally, Hollywood's come calling, and Bier is currently putting the finishing touches on her first English-language production, Things We Lost in the Fire with Halle Berry, Benicio del Toro, and David Duchovny. Open Hearts and Brothers are also earmarked for US remakes (the former by Zach Braff). American studios love movies about
guilt and denial, but rarely get the balance right. At least Bier comes close.
So, against my better judgment and because, to paraphrase Donna Summer,
I enjoy watching actors work hard for the money -- much like Mikkelsen's character is forced to do -- I would recommend After the Wedding. But I'll end with a warning. The film's unofficial theme song is "It's Raining Men" by the Weather Girls. It plays not once, but twice. I'll take a schematic screenplay over that irritating disco anthem any day. Can it really be a Danish wedding favorite? If so, they have my sympathies.
Helene admires Jacob's bone structure
After the Wedding opens at the Egyptian on 4/20. The theater is located at 805 East Pine St. For more information, please call 206-781-5755 or visit Landmark Theatres.

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