Jacob and Helen (Mads Mikkelsen and Sidse Babbett Knudsen) share a moment in Suzanne Bier's After the Wedding

Jacob and Helen (Mads Mikkelsen and Sidse Babbett Knudsen) share a moment in Susanne Bier's After the Wedding

This was a film I saw advertised in a lot of London Underground stations in 2006, the release timed to coincide with Mads Mikkelsen's turn as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. As such, I dismissed it out of hand.

However, After The Wedding (Efter Brylluppet) is a beautiful piece of work and well worth seeking out.

Mads Mikkelsen is Jacob, an aid worker in Mumbai (parallels with Slumdog Millionaire here) who feeds street kids, and looks after 50 or so children in his own orphanage. He is particularly attached to one of the children, Pramod, who he's looked after since he was a baby. Mikkelsen's character seems to be a holier than thou missionary who has channeled everything into a higher cause - but this perception soon changes.

The orphanage is running out of money, you see - and they've been thrown one last lifeline from a billionaire hotel magnate back in Copenhagen. The only stipulation is that Jacob himself must go to meet him in person. Reluctantly, Jacob invests in a suit, shave and haircut and flies back to Denmark for the first time in years where he meets the enigmatic Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard).

Jorgen invites Jacob to the wedding of his daughter Anna, where he is introduced to his wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen). There is a spark of recognition between them, which soon gives way to a dark, devastating secret which has repercussions for all the characters, throughout the rest of the film.

A strange and murky conflict develops between the two men, and the layers are slowly stripped away from everyone, revealing their personal flaws and weaknesses that make them human beings.

One skill that director Susanne Bier has is constantly playing with audience expectations - characters are set up in a certain way at the start. Jacob is an angel, Jorgen seems to be a sleazy billionaire, Helene an ice maiden, her daughter a spoilt little princess… then the layers are slowly pulled away from them to reveal new and hidden depths.

Mikkelsen and Lassgard turn in great performances, but the star of the show is the beautiful Sidse Knudsen. Her character at first appears to be an unfeeling bitch, but is gradually revealed as a strong woman trying to live a life free of past regrets, and not always succeeding.

No one in this film is perfect - but they are all undeniably human, and that's what makes After The Wedding such a compelling watch. You might need to suspend your disbelief at certain points, but Bier has a distinctive and engaging storytelling style, matched with excellent cinematography and editing. There are lots of closeups of eyes, with the excellent acting doing much of the work in engaging the emotions of the audience.

This is a hard one to review as I can't give away much of the plot - the plot is integral to the enjoyment of the film though - half Terms of Endearment style weepie, half Hitchcockian suspense in the mould of Strangers on a Train, After the Wedding has to be seen and absorbed, and enjoyed.


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