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Open Hearts
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by Brian McKay

"This Danish Dogme takes a well-placed dump on Hollywood's Karma"
5 stars

After seeing the Mexican film Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN a few days ago, followed by the Danish film OPEN HEARTS today, I am once again swayed by the notion that small foreign flicks kick ass, while most of what Hollywood puts out is overblown, over-budgeted, overproduced crap. Of course, the latter part of that statement isn't exactly a revelation now, is it?

In a nutshell, Open Hearts is a story about how one single event, a tragic car accident, turns the lives of two couples completely upside down. Ironically enough, the only reason I got to see the film is because I "accidentally" attended it. I was supposed to be attending a critic's screening of something else, and ended up going to the right place at the right time, but on the wrong day. And man, am I glad I did.

In the beginning of Open Hearts, we are introduced to Cecilie (Sonja Richter, in her stunning film debut) and Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a happy young couple. The day after Joachim proposes to Cecilie, he is struck by a car while saying goodbye to her as he is leaving on a brief trip. While Cecilie kneels in shock beside the bloody and unconscious Joachim, the driver of the car, Marie (Paprika Steen) and her teenage daughter, Stine (Stine Bjerregaard) scramble to find a phone to call for help.

Joachim is taken to the hospital with critical injuries - the same hospital where Marie's doctor husband, Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), works. Marie feels terrible for what has happened, but is too guilt-stricken to go talk to Cecilie about it, so she sends Niels to see how she is doing. Niels offers a sympathetic ear, and gives Cecilie his cell number in case she needs to call and talk about anything.

Cecilie soon learns that Joachim has received irreparable spinal injuries, and will never be able to use his arms or legs (much less make love) again. When Joachim wakes up and is told of his condition, he shrouds himself in self-loathing and self-pity, doing all in his power to drive Cecilie away for what he perceives is her own good. Cecilie refuses to give up at first, and her attempts to break through the walls that Joachim has placed between them are heartbreaking. When he finally refuses to let her see him altogether, and even has someone remove his furniture from their apartment, she turns to Niels for comfort.

It's an innocent thing at first, as she just needs someone to hold her or talk to her, and Marie encourages Niels to do so. However, his attraction to Cecilie, as well as her loneliness and vulnerability, leads to the inevitable affair. Niels begins to act recklessly, even going so far as to buy new furniture for Cecilie that he cannot afford, even on a Doctor's salary. He quickly becomes lost in the illusion that he and Cecilie are a real couple, while his daughter Stine begins to put two and two together before her mother does. Meanwhile, Joachim strikes up an antagonistic relationship with his nurse Hanne (Birthe Neumann), a kind and professional woman who can give as good as she gets. When Joachim asks her "Do the doctors keep a list of who gets to fuck you next?" she calmly replies with "You must be getting cooped up in here. How about a nice walk after lunch. Just a short one." TOUCHE'! However, despite the scathing barbs traded between them, it is obvious that Joachim needs her, and that she feels compassion for him in spite of the horrible things he's said about her.

Open Hearts adheres to the Dogme95 manifesto (found at http://www.dogme95.dk/the_vow/vow.html), which means minimalist filmmaking that focuses on strong performances and stories. Genre stories, action sequences, and special effects are forbidden. Sets cannot be used - everything must be filmed on location and "as is". The camera must be handheld, and the only music that can be used is music found directly in the scene - in other words, no dramatic movie score, and to be honest, you won't miss it. Besides, the lack of scoring is more than made up for by the original soundtrack, which is provided by Anggun (Snow on the Sahara). In addition to providing the music for the opening and closing credits, the scenes of Cecile listening to snippets of this hypnotically beautiful pop artist's music on her walkman serve to emphasize her character perfectly. Cecile is just young, and maybe naive, enough to believe that there is always hope, and that love can conquer all - even though the bitter Joachim dismissively tells her "You need to stop listening to so much pop music."

The eschewing of all of the typical post-production contrivances make for a stripped-down, clean, and compelling film that relies on a solid script, strong dialogue and fantastic acting - all of which Open Hearts delivers. Sonja Richter is amazing in the role of Cecilie, who doesn't indulge in histrionics. When she does cry, it feels real and serves to perfectly underscore the emotion of the scene, rather than ram it down the viewer's throat. Mikkelsen also gives us a sympathetic character in Niels, whose lapses in judgment seem understandable and human, rather than selfish. He is not a womanizer. He loves Marie and their three children. He doesn't mean for what happens between him and Cecilie to happen, but when it does he realizes he doesn't want it to end. Stine Bjerregaard also does a fantastic turn as the angry teenage daughter who both despises Cecilie for destroying her family and feels the need to be forgiven by her for causing the accident (an argument with Marie in the car led to reckless driving).

Although the material could have lent itself to sappy Hollywood melodrama all too easily, the strong script and performances, combined with the spartan Dogme restrictions, bring out all the best that OPEN HEARTS has to offer. The film bears many messages about love, tragedy, and holding on, but its ultimate message seems to be about knowing when it's time to let go.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7060&reviewer=258
originally posted: 02/26/03 23:23:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Santa Monica Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Santa Monica Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/16/09 Shaun Wallner Awesome Film. 5 stars
3/25/05 Elizabeth S My favorite film from 2003! 5 stars
6/10/03 James Korn Excellent Film 5 stars
5/23/03 Johan Jakobsson This movie is not only boringly low-key and underproduced, it hails adultery as "ok". Yay? 1 stars
3/02/03 Frederik Eltzholtz I just wayched the movie, and yes, I am impressed by the directors work (Susanne Bier) 5 stars
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  21-Feb-2003 (R)



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