Great Films by Women – After the Wedding

How to describe the experience of watching Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding without risking taking something away from a future viewer? I can give you the briefest of set-ups. I can assure you that it’s not so much that there’s a huge twist I can’t give away, as there are so many smaller turns that it’s just better you not know. You, the viewer, should be in the position of our main character, Jacob, who has no idea what’s in store for him on a business trip he doesn’t particularly want to take.

Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is from Denmark, but has been living in Bombay for many years. Currently, he helps run an orphanage that desperately needs funding. A possible financial backer in Copenhagen insists that Jacob travel there to meet him in person before finalizing any agreements. Jacob at first absolutely refuses. Clearly, he and Copenhagen are not on great terms. But, he has no choice. He promises a young, distraught boy called Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani) that he will be back in eight days to attend the boy’s birthday. He heads to Denmark, solemnly.

On a grand estate, we meet Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), the extremely successful businessman who beckons Jacob back to Denmark. Jørgen reads a bedtime story to his young twin sons. He flirts with his beautiful wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen). They discuss the impending wedding of their daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen). All seems happy and bright. But, when Jørgen meets with Jacob, his behavior is odd. He won’t state for sure that he intends to donate the money. He insists that he needs the weekend to think it over, that they can speak on Monday. And in the meantime, Jacob should attend Anna’s wedding.

Here’s where I’ll stop describing the plot. As I’m sure you can tell from the title of the film, something very significant happens at the wedding. As the film progresses, revelations about each of our central characters set up explorations of several meaningful themes: how people compartmentalize and lock away parts of their lives in order to cope with the day-to-day; how impressions of others based on their visible circumstances are often useless; that one’s reaction to a responsibility they haven’t asked for may say the ultimate about that person. All of this in a drama that goes from harsh to tender, gentle to explosive in the way that life does when something happens that can either pull people together, or push them apart.

Director Susanne Bier, working from a screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen that is from her original story, crafted something vivid and profound in this film. In the hands of someone less deft, this could be a soap opera plot. But Bier allows so much of the story to play out in expressions on her actors’ faces, and cuts away from so much while allowing us to extrapolate what was said from the aftermath, that the film always stops short of theatrics. Her handheld camerawork and frequent extreme close-ups push the intimacy to intense levels, always emphasizing that the most significant part of any development is the way people react, and the way they treat each other.

And oh, the acting. This is one of those films where you will wonder where these actors have been all your life. You will want to queue up every film that Rolf Lassgård or Sidse Babett Knudsen has ever appeared in. You will want Stine Fischer Christensen, who deservedly won Best Supporting Actress at the Bodil Awards (the major Danish film awards) to stand alongside the darlings of young Hollywood whenever a high profile role comes along. You will see how much more Mads Mikkelsen is than just a fun villain in Casino Royale.

I really must insist that you watch After the Wedding if you haven’t already. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of 2006 at the Academy Awards, and frankly it is better than any of the five films nominated for Best Picture that year. It is currently streaming on Netflix.


4 Responses to “Great Films by Women – After the Wedding”

  1. 1 Erica McGillivray August 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Sounds like a very interesting film. I’m adding it to my “must see” list.

  2. 2 Jared August 31, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Just watched it. One of the most beautiful, moving films I’ve ever seen.

  3. 3 Brandi Sperry August 31, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Awesome, Jared, I’m so glad you liked it.

  4. 4 Jared August 31, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    What I appreciated most (and there are others):
    Overarching redemption theme weaved throughout;
    Simple dialog, complex expression;
    Helene and Jacob’s scene on the estate where they have wine and awkwardly catch up;
    Anna and Joergen’s scene in the office where they sadly catch up;
    The one twin and his jacket zipper;
    The harsh to tender, gentle to explosive feel you described, and how the camera control seems to track the mood;
    The ending.

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