Film : "After the Wedding:" To be or not to be a family
As the title of the Danish film, "After the Wedding," implies, what happens after a marriage ceremony may be more significant than the festive occasion itself. This gripping family drama will play Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. It's fitting that "After the Wedding" should screen on the eve of the 81st Academy Awards, since it was nominated for Best Foreign Film of 2006. It lost to "Tsotsi" from South Africa, but not for lack of excellence.
The film starts out in Mumbai, India, well before the wedding. Jacob, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen ("Quantum of Solace," "Casino Royale") is running a nearly bankrupt orphanage, when he learns about a potential donor, Jorgen (Swedish actor Rolf Lassgard) in Denmark. In what seems like a somewhat arbitrary requirement, Jorgen insists that Jacob leave India and come to Denmark to discuss the gift.
Director Susanne Bier sets up the coming conflict between these two men by deftly crosscutting between the worlds of Jacob and of Jorgen. She uses music, as well as non-musical interludes, to underscore the differences between them. Yet in each of the prefatory segments, Ms. Bier spends more time on the two men than might be expected in normal narrative convention.
Jacob seems deeply committed to the children he helps care for, and Jorgen appears to be a devoted family man preparing for his daughter Anna's wedding. Despite his fondness for his wards, Jacob comes across as a solitary individual, while Jacob has an idyllic life with loving wife and three children. The length of time spent on the setups for these characters pushes the viewer to ask what lies beneath the surface, and what the connection between the two men will turn out to be.
The pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place when the two men meet in Denmark and Jorgen invites Jacob to his daughter's wedding. Stunning revelations follow. During a speech at her wedding reception, Anna announces that Jorgen is not her real father. Meanwhile Jacob recognizes Helene, Anna's mother, as the love of his life who abandoned him 20 years ago.
It's no surprise to learn that Jacob is Anna's real father. Emotional fireworks explode among most of the characters, but Jorgen's motives for engineering the unanticipated encounters between Jacob and Helene, then Jacob and Anna, remain hidden.
At times, Ms. Bier seems to be moving her characters around like chess pieces. But high-caliber acting persuades the viewer that the conundrums entangling them are genuine. They function to raise important political and moral questions about the power and rights that come with Jorgen's wealth, and the struggle between family and social commitments.
One problem Ms. Bier has not solved is that Mr. Mikkelsen has such a powerfully cinematic face that he steals almost every scene he's in. Like the actor Daniel Craig, his face has the stiffness of a mask. What is Jacob really thinking? It's often hard to tell.
Putting aside the plot's over-reliance on coincidence and the sometimes intrusive use of extreme close-ups, the viewer will find "After the Wedding" engrossing and thought-provoking. At a time when comic book superheroes masquerade as characters in all too many movies, the Martha's Vineyard Film Society once again offers Martha's Vineyard a movie with plenty of substance and plenty to discuss.
"After the Wedding," 7:30 pm, Saturday, Feb. 21, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for Film Society members. Doors open at 7 pm.
Brooks Robards writes on film, books, and art for The Martha's Vineyard Times.