After The Wedding (Efter brylluppet)

Denmark (2006) Dir. Susanne Bier

Jacob Petersen (Mads Mikkelsen) runs a small orphanage in India which si facing bankruptcy until a wealthy Swedish businessman living in Denmark, Jørgen Lennart Hansson (Rolf Lassgård), wants to invest. Jacob travels to Denmark to meet Jørgen, where Jørgen invites Jacob to the wedding of his daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen). There Jacob sees a familiar face from his past, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Jørgen’s wife. Anna’s seemingly innocent speech at the wedding reception sparks a catalogue of revelations that shake the lives of everyone to their very core.

This Oscar nominated outing from Denmark’s most prominent female director (it’s horrible to make that gender distinction but…) is a tense and emotionally fuelled drama that may bring with it a rather pedestrian storyline but this is purely functional for the exceptionally acted and fully engaging exploration into the devastating effects the choices we make and the secrets we keep.

There is little else to add to the above summary without spoiling the entire plot – which admittedly appears predictable at first but scratch deeper and the method behind the madness eventually becomes clear, even if the behaviour of the people affected raises a number of moral questions, few of which can be answered with any certainty.

What can be discussed are the contrasting worlds of Jacob and Jørgen which palsy a major part in their attitudes towards other people and how they both react to the developments as they unfold. Jacob lives among the slums in India, with little for himself let alone the others, taking care of the kids with the meagre fund he has. Jacob has a deeper invested interested in the orphanage, after raising a young boy named Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani) since he was a baby. A week before Pramod’s eighth birthday, Jacob gets the call to meet Jørgen in Denmark, making the young boy a promise that he will return in time.

Upon landing in Denmark, Jacob is picked up by a chauffeur, Christian (Christian Tafdrup) – who is also Jørgen’s future son-in-law – and taken to a five star hotel with all the mod cons and luxuries he has never known in India. All of this has kept Jacob rather grounded and reformed from his former wild ways while Jørgen has clearly embraced his wealthy status with aplomb. Loud, brash and very demanding Jørgen is the yin to Jacob’s yang, living in a vast house with a kept wife and two young twin sons Martin and Morten (Frederik and Kristian Gullits Ernst). The wedding, as you might expect, is a lavish affair held on the grounds of Chez Hansson and Jacob is the proverbial fish out of water.

You may have possibly figured out where this goes but hold that thought as there is so much more than comes from the revelation that came from one innocent remark. Anders Thomas Jensen’s screenplay cleverly teases familiar conventions only to switch direction to add that extra layer of intrigue before hitting us with another surprise. Perhaps that is overselling it a bit as the developments aren’t that original or unusual but it is how they are applied to the story and the reactions they provoke which makes this such a gripping yarn to follow through to the end.

The script is only half the attraction however – it is the cast and their consummate performances that make this such a rewarding and engaging experience for the audience. At the time of its release in 2006, none of them well known outside their native countries with the possible exception of Mads Mikkelsen, fresh off his role as the bond villain in Casino Royale. Now he, fellow Dane Sidse Babett Knudsen and the big Swede Rolf Lassgård are now household names – at least for BBC 4 viewers! What this film does is provide us a with an educational glimpse and what else these fine actors can do outside of the TV roles they are known for which should serve to only see the appreciation for their talents grow as a result.

For Mikkelsen, one could compare this to his turn as the wrongly accused teacher in The Hunt, a man who finds his whole world turned inside out and trying to reconcile this seismic shift into the unknown. While he portrays Jacob as a nice guy thrown into the deep end, he isn’t someone so buckles under the pressure and welcomes the challenges with dignity and genuine noble intentions.

It’s interesting that simple change in hairstyle (and four years) can change someone’s appearance but there are a few scenes where Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen is rarely recognisable as the same person. The two roles also couldn’t be any different and it is both surprising yet enriching to see Babett playing a darker character in Helene, sharing with us a hitherto unseen side of her acting range. While Rolf Lassgård carries on some of the brusque traits of Wallander and Sebastian Bergman due to his physical presence but that doesn’t prepare us for the sheer emotional onslaught he unleashes on us in the final act.

We have to also mention Stine Fischer Christensen as Anna, partially because she looks about 14 for a 21 year-old but she works very well with her seasoned fellow cast. The key to the emotional impact of this film, along with Bier’s occasionally esoteric direction, is that everything feels totally natural, free from artifice and forced sentiment. One can believe that we are seeing real human beings responding and reacting to the situations they endure.

Through nuanced body language much of the story is told than needless exposition and the lack of a musical soundtrack plays a huge part in creating the realistic atmosphere, in both Denmark and India.

If the cast draw you in to After The Wedding the story and acting will ensure you stay for the duration. There is more to Nordic Noir that what we see on TV and Bier’s masterful gut wrenching drama is a prime example of this.