The best family dramas can be unbearable to watch. Anyone who’s had a tense confrontation with a loved one can attest that complicated dynamics and secrets bring out the worst in people. “After the Wedding” weaves such a web of relations. The characters are deep, their relationships complex, but the movie manages to be immensely satisfying.
Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, “Men & Chicken”) has dedicated his life to teaching orphans in India. When the orphanage runs low on funds, he is sent to Denmark to meet Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard, “Lovekinnen”), who has shown interest in funding the project. Once there, Jacob is invited to Jorgen’s daughter Anna’s (Stine Fischer Christensen, “Die Unsichtbare”). There, Jacob is reacquainted with the love of his life, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen, “A Hologram for the King”) and learns a shocking secret.
Despite how cluttered the plot sounds, it’s actually very elegant. Writer and director Susanne Bier navigates this familial minefield with grace. Her deft writing and observant direction makes the many characters rich and believable. By paralleling close-up shots, Bier makes every character’s inner thoughts feel obvious. It’s often melodramatic, but Mikkelsen, Lassgard, Christensen, and Knudsen keep their characters grounded. If any one performance didn’t work, “After the Wedding” would just be a drawn out soap opera.
By turns, the plot can be manipulative. Certain events are obviously manufactured and don’t arise naturally from the narrative. At points, the movie tells viewers how to feel. With an overwrought soundtrack, the beginning and other assorted moments fall flat compared to the tense, and music-less, confrontations between the various characters.
Thankfully, those moments don’t define the movie. What defines the movie is an emotional rawness. Jacob and Jorgen, especially, are naked in their anger and resentment. They are both deeply flawed, more similar to each other than they’d like to admit. Unlike other family dramas, “Miss Violence” and “Moebius,” for example, the characters are refreshingly direct. Problems are put out into the open, and the movie thereafter deals with the fallout. By the end, few people have secrets.
Through a twisted web of familial relations, “After the Wedding” comes out on top. Some plot points feel artificial and manipulative, and much of the dialogue is melodramatic to a fault. Thanks to Bier’s agile direction and riveting performances all around, the movie becomes a startlingly raw, often times painful, experience. The movie hits often and it hits hard, but viewers willing to take the blows will come out more than satisfied.
Title: “After the Wedding”
Director: Susanne Bier
Release date: Feb. 4, 2006