After the Wedding
It took longer than I'd expected, but I finally got around to watching my birthday present to myself, the Danish movie called After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet), directed by Susanne Bier. And I loved it.
Mads Mikkelsen - probably best known on this side of the pond for his role as the villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale - plays Jacob, an aid worker in an Indian orphanage, who in order to receive funding, must return to his native Denmark where he meets the possible benefactor. And then things get complicated. The benefactor, Jørgen, is married to Helene, someone Jacob used to know and that's just the beginning - I'll avoid a further synopsis, as I think the movie is better if you know very little going into it.
One of the things that I found very enjoyable in this movie was watching Mads Mikkelsen act in his native Danish – a language and culture that tends to happen at a less effusive level than North American English - both verbally and nonverbally. Watching him flesh out this character of melancholy, idealism and passivity made me appreciate what a subtle actor he is. The other performances are equally terrific, especially Rolf Lassgård, who portrays the billionaire with a sense of entitlement and ease of rule like that of a feudal lord. However, the other actors are never less than wonderful, seemingly effortlessly portraying what happens in relationships, how people interact when they know each other and, without revealing too much, this movie contains the most precise and authentic depiction of uncontrolled despair I have ever seen on screen.
The movie is filmed with swift cuts, intensely close, almost abstract, close-ups of faces, facial features, body parts and these cuts and focii at once intensify the emotion portrayed and forces you to enter the deep, past the surface of the action and the story, and right into hearts and souls of the characters, as well as the ideas explored in the movie. The story itself could be called melodrama, but the excellence of the acting, combined with in the excellence of Bier’s direction makes it real and at times harrowing. Remember Dogme ‘95? The Danish movement to strip away the fake, the special effects, the enhancements of moviemaking and which in stripping the polish off the product, created films that became more immediate, more authentic. One of my favourite Dogme movies is The Celebration (Festen), a heart wrenching and brutal exploration of the secrets below the surface (I made Ken watch it and afterwards he said, shaken, that it was "very Danish" - I'm still not quite sure what he meant). Although Bier does not conform completely to the ideals of Dogme - I've seen this movie described as "Dogme Light" - the movie retains enough of the elements in this approach to achieve the same authenticity and immediacy, making the characters and the situations in which they find themselves seem very, very real.
Of course, the familiarity of the Danish language and environment probably sucked me in faster then a non-Danish person, but I don't think my absorption in this movie was exclusively due to that. And while we're talking about the Danish, I'm going to go off on a little rant. I saw a review that mentioned the “ambivalent” ending and I am quite frankly at a loss as to what is ambivalent. Unless the writer (and unfortunately, I forget where I found it) means the future of the relationship between Jacob and Helene and if that’s it, let me just say how ridiculous a statement that is. This movie is about everything else but that – it’s about trust, secrets, control, ethics, being lost, being found, not about love, but Love and who ends up shagging who is completely irrelevant. It drives me nuts sometimes, this incessant North American need for the happy ending, where everything’s all tied up neatly with a bow. Life isn’t like that – why should art be? Don't get me wrong, I have previously talked about my unabashed fondness for romance novels, because every now and again, you need the guarantee of a happy ending - it's the literary version of comfort food (preferably comfort food that's not nutritionally balanced) and the same goes for movies. Every now and again, you need fluff, something sort of unchallenging that will make you feel good, a neat package, tied with gold string. But not all the time. Art shouldn't just be pretty - it should portray and explore the ambivalence of life, the choices and motivations of people, it should challenge you, make you think and feel, change you. Which is why movies like Balls of Fury isn't art, but After the Wedding is. Go get it and let me know what you think. And p.s. – get The Celebration while you’re at it, but resist all impulses to read a review. Many reviews reveal too much and you don’t want to know certain crucial elements of the story before you watch it.