Return to the Fatherland (Film Review: “After The Wedding”)

A subtle family potboiler that reverberates with suspense and surprises, After The Wedding is proof positive that Danish film is alive and well worth the subtitles.

SnapShot Plot

By now it must be clear that I am a huge Mads Mikkelson fan, and this film (Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Picture in 2007) further justifies my loyal allegiance. But to be fair, although he gets top billing, the movie really belongs to co-stars Rolf Lassgård and Sidse Babett Knudsen (known to fans of the fantastic Danish political series, Borgen), whose performances are so finely nuanced that at times I forgot I was watching a fictitious narrative instead of real life. Here, Mikkelson plays Jacob Petersen, a lonely man living in the slums of Bombay who has devoted his life to helping the forgotten and the impoverished, in this case scores of abandoned children rescued from the streets and living in a financially doomed orphanage. Their last hope resides in a potential donation by a billionaire industrialist turned philanthropist in Copenhagen, Jørgen Hannson, who insists that Jacob fly to his native Denmark to present the orphanage’s case in person. Jørgen  (in a magnificent performance by Swedish actor, Rolf Lassgård) is brash, dismissive, volatile, explosive, and manipulative and he gets away with it because he’s rich and powerful. But just as you’re about to write him off, you see him with his wife and family and realize that – at his core – he’s a loving family man. Sidse Babett Knudsen is spot-on perfect in the role of Jørgen’s loving and supportive wife, Helene. What makes this actress so appealing – aside from her formidable acting chops – is a certain tomboy-ish, girl-next-door earthiness, a twinkle in her eye and a smile that is so winning that it’s got an almost masculine appeal…suffice it to say, she’s no cream puff.

When Jacob reluctantly leaves India and arrives in Copenhagen, it’s clear that Jørgen  is barely interested in what Jacob is telling him about the orphanage, instead dangling the donation like a carrot as a way to cajole him into attending his own daughter’s wedding the very next day. When Jacob and Helene see each other at the church, we realize they have a history and we assume a whole host of secrets to be associated with this discovery. . . and we’d be only half right. The rest of the movie plays out in twists and turns, exposing these characters in both sympathetic and culpable colors, in other words, as complex human beings.


Parting  Shot

What director, Susanne Bier and writer, Anders Thomas Jensen  have done is to paint, in both broad and subtle strokes, a family portrait of individuals whose lives have taken distinct turns based on the consequences of actions deep in the past. And as if that weren’t interesting enough, she tackles questions having to do with Money & Power, and Fatherhood, and ultimately, Sacrifice. And although she digs deep below the surface imagery of her characters in their respective milieus, there are still mysteries surrounding them that we continue to ponder long after the last of the closing credits.

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