After the Wedding

June, 2007, Drama

Directed by:Susanne Bier

Starring:Mads Mikkelsen and Sidse Babett Knudsen

After The Wedding

Orbs feature prominently in Danish director Susan Bier’s latest film, which was nominated for an Oscar last year as Best Foreign Language Film. They belong to cadre of people, (family, employees, and servants) whose lives revolve around wealthy Danish businessman Jorgen Hanson, (Rolf Lassgard)… and to the trophy heads in his game room. Examined in tight close-ups, (singly and in pairs) these eyes constantly look, but only occasionally see what’s in front of them. They symbolize the characters’ inability to peer into the future, to grasp the significance, from present clues, of what lies ahead. While it ultimately lacks the impact of its immediate predecessor, (the stunning Brothers, released in 2004) Wedding features a pair of superb performances and enough moments of hard-nosed clarity to offset the meandering soap-opera context of its storyline. Bier hasn’t produced a home run, but she’s definitely hit for extra bases.

Mads Mikkelsen, (the fiendishly red-eyed villain in the last James Bond outing) plays Jacob, a Danish ex-patriot providing food & lodging for the street kids in a financially-strapped Indian orphanage. When the organization learns that it has caught the eye of Hanson, a Danish industrialist who might be interested in making a large gift to ensure the its future, Jacob reluctantly flies to Copenhagen to make the case for the desperately needy children in his care. But Hanson insists he has other philanthropic options to consider which will take some time to analyze and he suggests that Jacob attend the wedding of Hanson’s daughter Anna which is to take place during the interim. Thoroughly annoyed at being dragged back to a homeland he’s long rejected, but anxious to secure Hanson’s financial support, Jacob agrees. 

But the wedding ceremony and the reception which follows plunge Jacob into the details of his own agonizing past when he learns about his connection to certain members of the wedding party and the real reason behind Hanson’s insistence that Jacob participate in what will become the unfolding story of the Hanson family, tempting Jacob to give up his life in India and place himself in Hanson’s orbit. Wedding thus becomes a contest between the stoic utopian and his avuncular but cynical benefactor.

Jacob’s a well-intentioned but mysteriously turbulent idealist who mixes genuine compassion for his destitute charges with an astringent personality and a jaundiced view of those whose luxurious lifestyles implicitly mock the value of the world’s poor. He’s polite but prickly; while full of compassion for the downtrodden, he’s arrogantly judgmental about the values and motives of Hanson and his coterie. With his craggy good looks and piercing eyes, Mikkelsen provides a haunting portrait of Jacob, a man who seems intent on running away from the intimacy life offers as he feverishly pursues solutions to the world’s most demanding moral imperative - - the plight of those who live in desperate poverty. 

Hanson is played by Rolf Lassgard, best known as Kurt Wallander, the detective/protagonist in the Swedish television series based on the internationally acclaimed police procedurals of author Henning Mankell. In Lassgard’s accomplished hands, Hanson becomes the most accurate screen portrayal of the 21st century’s version of royalty; the successful business magnate. Personally charming, carelessly arrogant toward his opponents and unconsciously condescending to his subordinates, Hanson holds court in an opulent world in which everyone caters to his wishes. Supremely confident of getting his own way, Hanson employs a complex mixture of seduction, intimidation and charisma to manipulate his family, staff and friends, deploying smiles, good champagne and his considerable financial resources in the process. He’s a quietly terrifying force of nature.

Hanson’s irresistible force meets Jacob’s immovable object; a test of wills worthy of the director’s skills…but at this point, she throws a curve into the storyline which unfairly loads the dice in Hanson’s favor, turning what had been a hard-nosed examination of competing value systems into a soft-focused examination of the importance of familial relationships. Despite a final burst of candor from Hanson, Wedding slides into pathos, and what might have been an outstanding dissection of the disparities between first and third world living standards becomes instead a protracted analysis of how the rich extend their reach from one generation to the next. 

Bier’s an accomplished director whose dozen films over the last decade and a half have earned an enviable reputation. A charter member of the Dogme 95 group, (a collection of European filmmakers who reject the artificiality of studio-produced movies in favor of natural lighting, background soundtrack noise and hand-held cameras) she’s managed to blend those techniques into her productions with a keen sense of what audiences will and won’t find appealing. Give her credit here for raising interesting and important issues; but not much for the manner in which she side-steps in resolving them.  

 

 

   

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