I wrote this article for my college’s paper in an ongoing International Film Series put on by my film professor Dr. Arthur Nolletti Jr.
A Danish import titled, “After The Wedding,” (“Efter bryllupet”), was a revelation at the International Film Series, moderated by Dr. Arthur Nolletti. It created several fans after the credits closed. As Nolletti explained, the director (Susanne Bier) is widely known for making “absurd comedies of errors,” but “Wedding” is far from a comedy. Bier’s film does use comedy as a thematic and character device, but the main goal of portraying real emotions is what made the whole movie so affecting and memorable.
On the surface, “After The Wedding” is essentially a family drama. Fortunately for the viewer, this film is deeper than the conventional American movie in this genre. The story begins with Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, seen by American audiences as the villain in 2006’s “Casino Royale”), a Danish man working in India at a struggling orphanage. He learns that a billionaire from Denmark is interested in funding the destitute organization, and much to Jacob’s dismay, he unenthusiastically returns to his homeland.
When Jacob arrives, he meets the wealthy and magnanimous Jorgen (Rolf Lassgård). During their meeting, Jacob is invited to the wedding of Jorgen’s daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen). The wedding serves as the major turning point for Jacob’s character. This is the point at which “After The Wedding” truly grabs you. Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen structure a simple storyline until this point, and then lead you into profound and unexpected territories.
The film takes many surprising routes toward its denouement that are quite miraculous. When Jacob returns to Denmark, there is an air of discomfort. From Jorgen to his beautiful wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Denmark feels completely unwelcoming. But when the secrets for Jacob’s visit finally surface, we learn much more about the mysterious characters. They become likeable and deeply poignant.
Lassgård’s performance epitomizes this change. He’s an immensely realistic performer, as shown by one of the most severe and authentic death scenes ever created on film.
Also impressive was Mikkelsen, who showed that he can not only be a great Bond villain, but also an inspiring dramatic actor.
One aspect that had many people asking questions after the film was Bier’s use of extreme close-ups. Many of these close-ups were extremely moving.
At one particular point in the film, Anna has a very special meeting with Jacob, and the close-up of her eyes twitching in confusion works wonders for the scene, and with that small detail, our entire attitude toward the scene changes.
There are other instances of the close-up that seem a bit too obvious in their meaning, and thus a bit too over-the-top. The suggestion of emotion is necessary, but the tremendously natural performances of the actors were sufficient enough to carry it off.
The most admirable aspect of the film is its ability to make the viewer think. After the film, it became evident that Bier had created a movie in which every word had meaning. The themes of family, love and whether or not the ends justified the means were explored. Luckily for the viewers, the question of this justification is up to them. Will the choices Jacob makes be the right ones?
The film is a superbly unconventional melodrama that brings us into a new cinematic territory.
For the International Film series, “After the Wedding” was a crowning achievement and a wonderful bookend to the school year. After the screening, Nolletti explained that he was especially interested in watching the audience and “felt they were absolutely enthralled … with the movie.”
He was quite right – in fact, many students found themselves surprised by the film. Freshman Robert Mulligan was “blown away by how good it was.”
A great film can change how people watch movies, and for director Susanne Bier, it can be safely said that she has found a multitude of new fans.