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After the Wedding

directed by Susanne Bier

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2007
Category: Drama

“After the Wedding” could be the best film I’ve seen in a decade.

And I say that even though I didn’t see all of it — like just about everyone else in that theater, for the entire last half hour I was afflicted by a bout of silent sobbing that wouldn’t quit.

I cherish that amazing, unforgettable experience: several hundred people weeping together.

And then — I’m not spoiling the movie here — came a “happy ending” that is perhaps the most satisfying conclusion of any film I’ve seen in a decade.

Satisfying because the characters earned it. There was a huge price for each of them to pay, and they stepped up to it. They earned the right to better. And, because you have lived their struggles with them, you leave the movie with the kind of satisfaction that no studio-financed, movie-by-committee-and-focus-group can give you. [To buy the DVD of “After the Wedding” from Amazon click here. To rent or buy the video stream, click here.]

And the punch line of all this praise?

The story is pure soap opera. Really. On a low budget, with no-name actors and maybe even this script, “After the Wedding” would be right at home on Lifetime.

Consider the plot. Jacob, a Dane in his 30s, works in an orphanage in India. He hasn’t been home in 20 years, and that’s just fine with him. Bad news: The orphanage is running out of money. Good news: Jørgen, a philanthropist, wants to write the large check that will save it. On one condition: He wants to meet the recipient. The woman who runs the orphanage can’t go. Well, Jørgen is Danish, Jacob is Danish. Jacob should go.

Reluctantly, Jacob flies to Denmark. Jørgen listens to his pitch for only a few minutes before seeming to lose interest — it’s the weekend of his daughter’s wedding. To which Jacob should come. It’s not, after all, like he has anything else to do.

At the wedding, the first surprise: Helene, Jørgen’s wife, was once Jacob’s lover. In fact, she was the lover who broke his heart. The lover who sent him scurrying off to India, an orphan hiding among orphans.

Other surprises: I’ll spare you. And encourage you to read not a word more about the story — let the twists and turns sear you as they roll out. But I’ll go this far: The rich and poor, the white and the colored, Europeans and Indians — the moral lessons are so easy, aren’t they? Or are they? Is Jacob’s moral purity really an emblem of superiority? Is Jørgen’s privileged life a sign of a rotting soul? You’ll judge — you can’t help it — but when it’s over….

When it’s over, you’ll want to thank director Susanne Bier, a Danish filmmaker whose last film, Brothers, is also a memorably wrenching drama. Mads Mikkelsen — who plays Jacob (and was the villain in “Casino Royale”) — will make you forget all other young actors; he’s not only shockingly handsome, he can make reticence and distance both intimate and compelling. And Jørgen, played by Rolf Lassgård — when the film ends, you’ll find yourself replaying his performance to take note of all that you missed. And was there ever a trophy wife as radiant, loving and thoughtful as Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen)?

“After the Wedding” was Denmark’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Academy Awards. It lost to the German film, “The Lives of Others.” I would have voted differently.

There are DVDs you rent from Netflix. You watch them, you send them back; you got the amusement you paid for. But sometimes, very rarely, there are DVDs you buy. You buy them because you think they define a time in your life. Or because you think you’ll want to watch them again. Or — as is the case here — because you want to press the film on someone you love and say, “Here. This. A life-changer.”