Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding may ultimately be absurdly contrived and plotted soap, but it’s richly enjoyable soap of the finest kind. A shrewdly constructed narrative (though not as surprising as Bier probably thinks) and strong lead performances make up for much—including Bier’s irritating penchant for shoving her handheld camera in her cast’s faces. (No one ever needs to see Rolf Lassgard’s nose fill a movie screen as it does here.) Bier, however, offers compensation in the fluid style of her moving camerawork and in her ability to get the best out of the cast. The moving-camera approach is not merely showy either; it serves the functional purpose of imbuing the film with a sense of urgency, a feeling that we have to keep up with the characters in order to keep up with the rapid unfolding of the convoluted story.
The plot of the film concerns Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, best known in the U.S. as Le Chiffre in the recent Casino Royale), a man who works at an orphanage in India, where he has unofficially adopted Pramod (Neeral Muchandini), an 8-year-old he’s raised since infancy. The orphanage is in bad shape financially, but help may be forthcoming from a Danish businessman, Jorgen (Lassgard), who is potentially offering a large donation. But there are strings attached (some not yet revealed), including the demand that Jacob travel to Copenhagen to meet with Jorgen. Though Jacob doesn’t want to return to his home country that he hasn’t seen in 20 years—partly because Pramod’s birthday is only days away and he doesn’t want to disappoint the boy—it’s a question of survival. Once in Copenhagen, Jacob finds Jorgen to be a blustering, almost stereotypical businessman exuding suspicious good fellowship, dragging out the process and insisting that Jacob attend the wedding of his daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen). Jacob really has no choice but to play along with Jorgen’s wishes, which are somewhat explained when Jacob arrives at the wedding and there’s an obvious connection between Jacob and Jorgen’s wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and Anna turns out not to be Jorgen’s biological daughter. What is not clear for some time is why—or even if—Jorgen stage-managed all of this. And that is the crux of the movie’s intricate plotting. Revealing more of the plot would do the film a disservice, since much of its appeal depends on the cleverness of the storyline. You may well guess where it’s going before it gets there, but it’s not likely you’ll guess exactly how and why it will.
For a story that’s basically soap opera, After the Wedding is surprisingly perceptive about human relationships in some very un-soapy ways. Much of it is predicated on making the viewer reassess his or her prejudices about the characters, few of whom are as simply drawn as they at first seem—all are flawed and all are ultimately believable. There’s also a shrewd observation about the malleable nature of childhood that draws an unforced parallel between Anna and Pramod. And there’s a hint of a parallel between Helene and Anna as concerns Anna’s marriage to Christian (Christian Tafdrup), though the film drops this tangent rather awkwardly almost as soon as it’s raised.
The intelligence of the film is matched by its emotionalism—and the latter is often painfully portrayed, especially in a scene where Jorgen has to chase after Jacob to tell him the truth of the situation they’re all in. In the end, this isn’t a great film, but it is a witty and human one that’s definitely worth a look. Rated R for some language and a scene of sexuality.