Partly steeped in the precepts of Dogme filmmaking, After the Wedding is an exquisite emotional sledgehammer pummeling its audience with a barrage of overblown family melodrama. However, after wading through a torrent of misidentified paternity, terminal illness and marital infidelity, the joy of watching this Oscar-nominated film lies in the daedal dexterity of its auteur, Susanne Bier (Open Hearts, Brothers). Bier treats the screen like her canvas, utilizing an impressive panoply of handheld camerawork and visual intimacy to create the story rather than simply relying on an overcooked, relatively banal script.
Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, last seen flagellating James Bond in Casino Royale) is the manager of an orphanage in India who travels back to his native Denmark to court a possible financier, Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård). Invited to the wedding of the billionaire’s daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), Jacob encounters an old flame, Jørgen’s wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and uncovers a deep family secret that changes everyone’s lives.
After the Wedding‘s lack of mystery conjures an air of redundancy by the tail end of its two-hour running time. Indeed, some may find the visuals intrusive and the narrative evocative of a highbrow soap opera. However, the film’s raw hyper-realism accounts for much of its appeal. Material that reads mawkish on the page manifests into something tangible and powerful thanks to Bier’s acumen and a first-rate cast: Mikkelsen, while capable, struggles to keep up with Lassgård’s bravura showcase, Knudsen’s accessibility and Christensen’s wraithlike fragility.
On the heels of an acclaimed 16-year career in Scandinavia, Bier will finally debut her first English-speaking film this fall, Things We Lost in the Fire, starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro. Any concern that the shift to Hollywood might compromise Bier’s artistry is assuaged by her Dogme connection, and any concern that her style might not translate to American audiences is put to rest by a proficient, sure-handed piece of filmmaking like After the Wedding.