After the Wedding (2007): Susanne Biers Oscar-Nominated Family Melodrama, Starring Mads Mikkelsen

(Efter brylluppet)

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

A series of life-changing revelations await the unsuspecting characters of director Susanne Biers After the Wedding” (“Efter brylluppet”), an engrossing but ultimately overreaching family melodrama. One of the five nominees for this years Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, After the Wedding again shows Biers ability to turn simple character drama into gripping, almost operatic filmmaking, but unlike her marvelous last film Brothers” (“Brdre”), here, she juggles too many story threads to offer a similar emotional wallop.

Born in Denmark, the middle-aged Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) has spent the last 20 years working closely with poor children at a Bombay orphanage that is struggling to stay afloat financially. Relief for the floundering orphanage comes in the form of a potential donor, affluent Danish entrepreneur Jrgen (Rolf Lassgrd). In order to secure the funds, Jacob must go back to Denmark to meet with Jrgen personally. Unhappy about leaving the needy children–and also hesitant about returning to his homeland–Jacob nonetheless agrees.

Once back in Copenhagen, Jacob finds Jrgen to be a slightly pompous man who wants to help the orphanage but is largely distracted by his daughters imminent wedding. Before Jrgen agrees to the donation, he invites Jacob to the wedding, partly as a way to spend a little more time to bond with Jacob. Knowing that the crucial funds hang in the balance, Jacob accepts the invitation.

During the ceremony, Jacob meets Jrgens wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and daughter, bride-to-be Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen). What Jacob doesnt expect meeting, however, are dark secrets from his past some he has tried to bury and others that he never even knew himself.

Much of Biers film hinges on its slew of plot revelations, so discussing the merits and flaws of After the Wedding is somewhat difficult without divulging important story elements. Suffice it to say that Jacob discovers that he shares a history with Jrgens family, which threatens to undermine not only the wedding and the lucrative donation, but also the lives of all the main characters.

As with her earlier films, Brothers and Open Hearts” (“Elsker dig for evigt”), Bier starts with a very simple storyline, which is then hijacked by a potentially melodramatic plot twist. In “After the Wedding, she and her frequent collaborator, screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, introduce a character running from a mysterious past who will inevitably be pulled back into his old life, forced to confront old heartbreaks in a painfully public manner.

Such a setup can often lead to soap-opera conventions, but Bier attacks the material with her usually uncompromising style. With her background in Dogme cinema–a movement lead by Danish director Lars Von Trier to strip away artifice from the filmmaking process–Bier wields handheld cameras positioned uncomfortably close to her characters, creating a sense of heightened tension and unvarnished realism that helps shed her storys possibly maudlin qualities. (With its cinma vrit shooting style and its theme of family secrets and bitter recriminations, Biers new film shares a desperately claustrophobic feel with Thomas Vinterbergs stunning 1998 Dogme movie, The Celebration [Festen].)

Because Bier’s characters are all strong-willed individuals, their conflicting desires and their tentative attempts to reconcile with the past inspire several harrowing scenes–some near-silent, others filled with rage and tears. After the Wedding leaves you shaken by its blunt honesty about human relationships–their unspoken resentments, the uneasy daily truces agreed upon to create a sense of civility.

However, instead of more fully examining how the characters respond to Jacobs unexpected intersection with Jrgens family, the script doles out additional plot twists that further strain the credibility of what is already a rather contrived scenario. And as opposed to Brothers, with its detailed examination of sibling rivalry and the atrocity of war, After the Wedding grabs at several interesting themes without successfully tying them all together. Bier confronts the economic disparity between the First and Third World, the inability for money to bring happiness, the mystery of true love, the struggle to find meaning in the face of death, and the futility of flawed people trying to change their ways. But instead of finding a unifying thread within these compelling ideas, After the Wedding haphazardly drifts from one to another, dragging the characters along in the wake of the films thematic indecision.

While Bier doesnt always have a firm grasp on the material, the acting remains unimpeachable. As Jacob, Mikkelsen (who audiences might recognize from his role as James Bonds adversary in the recent Casino Royale) takes a complicated character and hits every emotional beat correctly. Bitter at the life he left behind in Denmark and trying to start anew in India, Jacob first seems like an honorable, wounded man. But as more of his checkered past is revealed during the film, Mikkelsens layered performance allows us to see the subtle hostility that was within Jacob from the start.

Since the script offers only brief sketches of Jacobs troubled background, Mikkelsen has to embody the characters past mostly through body language and behavior. He does a terrific job playing a man who is both ominous and vulnerable at the same time.

While Rolf Lassgrd and Sidse Babett Knudsen do strong work as the married couple Jrgen and Helene, the other real standout is newcomer Stine Fischer Christensen as their daughter Anna. Playing a young woman from a wealthy family preparing for her seemingly storybook wedding, Christensen has to travel over almost as much emotional terrain as Mikkelsen, finding Annas deep-seated insecurity but also her youthful sensuality and girlish immaturity.

No one is left unscathed by the films revelations, but perhaps Anna, being the youngest character, suffers the most collateral damage, and Christensen brings great poignancy to Annas shock at having her illusions shattered. Even when Bier seems more interested in her questionable plot twists and myriad thematic undercurrents, Christensen and Mikkelsen keep After the Wedding emotionally honest.


Running time: 119 minutes

Director: Susanne Bier
Production company: Zentropa
US distribution: IFC Films
Executive Producers: Peter Aalbk Jensen, Peter Garde
Producer: Sisse Graum Jrgensen
Screenplay: Anders Thomas Jensen (story by Bier and Jensen)
Cinematography: Morten Sborg
Editors: Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Hjbjerg
Production Design: Sren Skjr
Music: Johan Sderqvist


Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen)
Jrgen (Rolf Lassgrd)
Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen)
Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen)
Christian (Christian Tafdrup)

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