Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2007 8:53 pm 
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In Bombay and Copenhagen, the feel of an ancient tale

The Danish director Susanne Bier's After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) is a gloriously operatic overflow of emotional events and life challenges -- things like adultery, death, and moral choice are in our face all the time. She plunges us into the action vividly by starting with scenes in the streets of Bombay where a European man and Indian children are distributing food to the poor from a truck. Later we're in an orphanage, and the man is hugging a sweet little boy named Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani) and teaching a class of more boys. Casino Royale villain Mads Mikkelsen, Denmark's most visible film star, is the European do-gooder here, and he's the "eye" (though not weeping blood this time) through which we see most of this action.

It seemed in her previous film (Brothers) Bier was sometimes trying to talk about things she knew too little about (guerrilla fighting; post-traumatic stress syndrome). Though the emotions and the lifestyles are on a grand scale in After the Wedding and the opening scenes are exotic, there's no problem of inauthenticity this time.

Jacob -- that's the man's name -- is told by the Indian secretary of the orphanage, Mrs. Shaw (Meenal Patel) that he must go to Copenhagen. A rich man there has offered to donate essential funds, but won't do it unless Jacob comes in person. He doesn't want to go. Jacob is a reluctant, recalcitrant man. Later we learn he has led a profligate life. With his big cheekbones and exhausted eyes, Mikkelsen, no villain here, has the haggard look of someone who's burned away all his sins; there's not much left of him, but what's left is good, and pretty strong. He's become an admirable person, but he's not good at raising money for his causes.

The rich man turns out to be Jørgen (the wonderful Rolf Lassgård), a big suave bear of a man who puts Jacob in a splendid hotel suite overlooking the heart of the capital, and, paying little attention to a video about the orphanage, invites Jacob to his daughter's wedding the next day. A mansion and a park and an alley of flagpoles appear and in the crowd and the festivity it emerges that Jacob has an unexpected connection to the family Jørgen apparently didn't know about.

We accept this extraordinary coincidence and the immediate violence of the emotional events that follow because this is like an ancient tale, like Sir Gawain, this coming to a wedding and discovering the reformed prodigal saint knows the wife and has a link with the bride too. It all happens too fast not to be real. It has the old curse of nature and causality upon it.

There are further revelations that pose a moral dilemma for Jacob. Jørgen wants first of all to give him much more money that will allow him to do much more good in India -- to care, he says, for more little boys than there are in the whole of Denmark -- but this requires Jacob to remain in Copenhagen, and his joys are Pramod, the little boy he's raised from a baby in Bombay, teaching in the small orphanage and giving out food to poor children.

But that's not the only complication for Jacob. And Jørgen's family has one crisis after another now. Jørgen and his wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) have two little blond boys, twins, lively and happy. But a dark cloud hovers over the rich man's blessed life. Their older child, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), is the bride, and she's a fiery young person. All four of these actors are magnificent. The grandeur of the setting -- in the next life I want to live in a house like Jørgen's, which is huge and impressive and cozy all at once and surrounded by a great park with deer and grass; I'll take the blond twins too -- and the excess of the emotions, are both balanced, almost chastened, by much use of hand-held camera, a little like the old Dogme style, shaky and with intense and shifting close-ups that make things seem unplanned and chaotic. The jumpy images are only a little annoying. It's impossible to be distracted. This is a real movie-movie: from the first scene its images and scenes draw you in, carry you away, and catch you up short. Bier surprises and engages and moves: there's never a dull moment. Everything about this film is bold, and it all works. Perhaps things happen too fast, but by telescoping events the filmmaker has managed to be both epic and intimate, as the old epics themselves often are, and the result is a splendid film that deserves to be seen and remembered.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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