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After the Wedding

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/24/07 11:41:38

"Quietly moving."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 DEEP FOCUS FILM FESTIVAL: Susanne Bier knows the value of a good secret. Her new film, “After the Wedding,” like her melodrama “Brothers” before it, is riddled with surprises. These are movies about who knows what, and when we’ll be clued in. But these are not the catchy, gimmicky plot twists of a thriller. These are honest revelations that play for the sake of the characters.

And so, like “Brothers,” it is difficult to review “After the Wedding” without giving away all those secrets, so bear with me. Mads Mikkelsen stars as Jacob, who runs an orphanage in Bombay. He is quite attached to the children, which makes the news of his departure all the more difficult on everyone. Jacob, struggling to find funding for his charity work, has been given a lead in Denmark - a billionaire, Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), is considering a multi-million dollar donation. But first, wouldn’t Jacob like to come to the wedding of Jørgen’s daughter (Stine Fischer Christensen)?

For a while, Bier and frequent collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen (they co-wrote the story; he wrote the final screenplay) play on Jacob’s sudden transition from Bombay poverty to Copenhagen opulence - he seems rather amused by the flat screen TV and penthouse view his hotel offers, and he bumbles around Jørgen’s elegant office with a certain degree of discomfort.

But “After the Wedding” is not a social commentary. Soon we get a major reveal, and then another, and later, another still, and it’s a testament to Bier and Jensen that they can deliver the elements of a big, soggy melodrama without actually becoming a big, soggy melodrama. What the film becomes is a story of human connection - not the invented kind of “Crash” or “Babel,” but a genuine sort, the kind of connection involving lives becoming better thanks to the people we encounter along the way.

As the story plays out, Jacob realizes he’s being manipulated by Jørgen, who needs him to stay in Denmark in some permanent state of “just a little longer,” even as the lengthy visit threatens to break Jacob’s promise of a swift return for the children. And yes, Jørgen is indeed manipulating Jacob, using his wealth and influence to buy Jacob’s time. But it is never anything like that of an old soap opera - Jørgen’s intents are more humble, more realistic than the loopy maneuvers of a Joan Collins type. Even when yet another reveal late in the picture threatens to take the story once more into the sort of sappy territory reserved for desperately manipulative tearjerkers, Bier and Jensen show great restraint. Every secret, every reveal grows organically from the story itself.

With its characters at the heart of the story, it’s no surprise then that the film’s greatest strength is its cast. Mikkelsen, best known to American audiences as the heavy in “Casino Royale,” delivers a wide range of emotion; Jacob is a man lost between two worlds, and Mikkelsen brings a quiet reluctance to his performance. Lassgård, meanwhile, begins the film as something of a villain - he’s so cagey in his manipulations that you’re sure he’s up to no good. It’s all in how Lassgård handles the material, with a sly look here, a mood swing there. By the end of the film, his Jørgen is something else entirely; watch as delivers a moving speech about the importance of time spent with loved ones, which he ends by shifting into rousing business talk, if to shake off the solemnity. Lassgård’s Jørgen is a man hiding, if only barely, behind false emotions. Sidse Babett Knudsen (as Jørgen’s wife) and Christensen round out a most impressive cast.

“After the Wedding” earned a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the Academy Awards a few months back (yet only now has begun to arrive Stateside). While undoubtedly a bit sluggish in a few spots, it serves as yet another example of Bier’s strengths as a storyteller. “After the Wedding” is a deeply intimate tale of regret and hope, with characters that will linger in your thoughts long after the closing credits.

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