Review: 'After the Wedding' melodramatic but engaging 

Having subjected previous protagonists to paralysis and war horror, in "Open Hearts" and "Brothers," respectively, Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier dishes up an old-fashioned family skeleton, among other upheaval, in her new suds fest, "After the Wedding." Again, she yanks on the tear-jerk mechanism, assaulting her characters with bolts of tribulation from melodrama’s firmament. But even as you’re shaking your head, she’s probably captivating you.

Echoing their above-mentioned collaborations, Bier and cowriter Anders Thomas Jensen deliver Greek drama in tiny Denmark, rendered in Dogme hues and thickened with a dash of Bergman. While the results sometimes suggest "Scenes From a Marriage" meets "Terms of Endearment," Bier’s signature manipulative realism keeps you hooked and believing.

Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), a non-materialistic humanitarian who runs an orphanage in India, visits his native Denmark to meet with Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), a privilege-oozing benefactor. At the wedding of Jorgen’s daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), Jacob is surprised to encounter his lover of 20 years ago, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is now Jorgen’s wife and the bride’s mother.

When a banquet announcement reveals that Anna, who happens to be about 20, isn’t Jorgen’s biological child, and the machinating Jorgen attaches substantial strings to his orphanage donation, Jacob becomes torn between the kids who await him in India and the tangled blood ties he never knew he had.

That’s just the start of the twists and bombshells that Bier and Jensen supply, and, with their dearth of true shock value and their sheer excessiveness, these ingredients bloat the story. The artiness of the extreme close-ups and shaky camera work used by Bier, a Dogme 95 alum, aren’t constructive, either.

But Bier has an undeniable flair for open-hearts melodrama and, more impressively, for undercurrent. Presenting us with nuanced, tangible people, the film solidifies as a sensitive portrayal of the workings of human need and the randomness of fortune.

The cast triumphs. Mikkelsen, a Danish star whose subsurface unease and stirring complexity could never constitute leading-man material on our shallow shores, creates an engrossing portrait of a man struggling to prevent his demons from disabling his decency. Lassgard’s Jorgen proves equally multidimensional.

After the Wedding ***

Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgard, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen

Written by Anders Thomas Jensen, Susanne Bier

Directed by Susanne Bier

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

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