CHAMPAGNE IS POURED… SECRETS ARE SPILLED.
Danish director Susanne Bier is not only destined for great things; she’s also already delivering them. Swedish and Danish audiences have been familiar with her work for over a decade now, and in 2004 her Brothers received acclaim from international critics as well. Still, it was After the Wedding that became her true breakthrough and led to an Academy Award nomination as well as the opportunity to make her first American film, Things We Lost in the Fire.
The film begins in India where a Danish man, Jacob Petersen (Mads Mikkelsen), is running an orphanage. He’s done it for quite some time and created a genuine connection with a seven-year-old boy. He’s tired of Denmark and doesn’t envision himself ever going back. That is precisely what he must do however when an opportunity arises for the orphanage in the shape of wealthy industrialist Jörgen Hansson (Rolf Lassgård), a Swede now living in Denmark with his Danish wife. Jörgen is thinking about donating a substantial sum of money to Jacob’s work, but some final persuasion must be done in Copenhagen.
Jacob meets with Jörgen who shows little actual interest in his cause, but nevertheless comes close to promising him the money. He also invites Jacob to attend his daughter Anna’s (Stine Fischer Christensen) wedding. She’s marrying a young guy who seems more smitten with his father-in-law’s power and money than with Anna, but the wedding becomes a pleasant feast… until Jacob runs into Jörgen’s wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen).
They recognize each other immediately, but choose not to talk about their common past. That becomes impossible though when Anna, in a speech to the guests, mentions that Jörgen is not her biological father. Helene gives Jacob a revealing look and he realizes just who is. They had an affair over twenty years ago, but Jacob had no idea that Helene was pregnant when she left him. Jacob leaves the wedding in anger, but returns the next day to confront the couple and demand they tell Anna the truth, which they do. As a confused Anna tries to connect with her real father, Jörgen nurses a plan for his family and Jacob that is borne out of a secret, tragic necessity.
Keeping you interested from start to finish
I made the necessary decision to reveal one of the secrets of the film here, the scene where Anna’s real father turns out to be Jacob, but there are a few others that I will keep mum. Anders Thomas Jensen’s script certainly keeps you interested from start to finish; there is something about the intrigues that we expect are part of most wealthy families that fascinate audiences all over the world. Of course, this film also shows the contrast between all that money and the simple life that Jacob leads in India.
There’s plenty of emotion and Bier focuses a lot on details; the occasional close-up of a teary eye or fingers fumbling nervously says more about a person’s state of mind than a full-body shot. Mikkelsen gives a very nice, understated performance as the former drug addict forced to make incredibly difficult, moral decisions in Copenhagen; Lassgård has rarely been in better form as the rather vulgar millionaire who’s so used to wielding power that even when he plans to do a good, charitable thing he can’t help but push people around.
Some audiences might see this film and dismiss it as a simple-minded soap opera. But they would miss the point that every fine drama is developed from a simple soapish premise. The secret of success lies in the execution, and Bier and her cast and crew deliver a gripping, honest drama.
After the Wedding 2006-Denmark-Sweden-Britain. 124 min. Color. Produced by Sisse Graum Jørgensen. Directed by Susanne Bier. Screenplay: Anders Thomas Jensen. Cast: Mads Mikkelsen (Jacob Petersen), Rolf Lassgård (Jörgen Hansson), Sidse Babette Knudsen (Helene Hansson), Stine Fischer Christensen, Christian Tafdrup, Mona Malm.
Trivia: Original title: Efter bryllupet. Remade in the U.S. as After the Wedding (2019).
Last word: “It wasn’t the way we shot [India and Denmark] that was different, but the way we accentuated the difference in coloring. The colors are REALLY different. Even in summer in Denmark you never have the feeling of it being hot, but in India it’s always hot. It’s a completely different sensual experience to be in those two places. We wanted to convey that difference quite solidly. [India] is yellow. But it’s yellow there. Even the sea almost looks yellow, or gold. It’s amazing.” (Bier, Filmmaker Magazine)