“After the Wedding” (2006) begins on the streets of Mumbai, India, where several orphaned, homeless children are queuing up for food, courtesy ‘Anand Orphanage and School’, assisted by Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) who has taken up the cause. He teaches in the school attached to the orphanage, and is a favorite with the children there. The initial scenes make one wonder if this is yet another ‘poverty porn’ focusing only on the dirty underbelly of India and projecting it to be a country worse than it actually is (Think “Slumdog Millionaire”). But any negativity formed in the beginning is quickly quashed with what follows.
The orphanage is clearly falling short of funds. A silver lining is seen, as some tycoon in Denmark, by the name of Jorgen Hansson (Rolf Lassgård), has agreed to offer a huge sum of money as donation to the orphanage, but only on the condition that Jacob travel to Denmark personally, meet with Jorgen and then return with the necessary funds and paperwork. This tiny detail offered in the beginning, highlights the whimsical nature of the wealthy businessman’s offer, and immediately hints at a catch, so we begin to brace ourselves for an early twist. Any surprise quotient, then, is automatically reduced to half.
Jacob travels to Denmark, leaving behind his shanty life, albeit promising one of the orphan boys, Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani), who he has brought up and loves like his son, that he would be back in a week. Once in Denmark, Jacob is given red carpet treatment; a personal airport pickup, a luxury suite in a posh hotel, and later a meeting with the man himself; who takes a look at the project put together by Jacob (a videotape detailing the activities of the orphanage), but seems to be more interested in having a drink with him. Jorgen turns off the tape halfway, leaving Jacob stumped and disappointed, but proceeds to invite Jacob to the upcoming wedding of his daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen). The unsuspecting Jacob accepts the invitation and shows up at Jorgen’s plush mansion, the venue of the wedding.
But a series of startling discoveries at the wedding and after it, make this visit to Denmark, a life-changing experience for Jacob…..
Writer-Director Susanne Bier’s screenplay shows great promise, at least in the first half, thanks to the periodic revelations. Some dark secrets are revealed at regular intervals, and thus the pace is well maintained ‘til then, although the film revolves only around four major characters. There are great moments of power-packed drama, sometimes intense, sometimes warm, sometimes awkward; mostly the uncomfortable encounters between characters are very naturally captured; it couldn’t get more real than that. The director knows exactly how the characters would emote under the circumstances, and thanks to the terrific actors, it’s all well done and earnestly acted. The cinematography is somewhat grainy, mostly devoid of the usage of special lighting, and is shot on a handheld camera, reminiscent of the style of the Dogme 95 movement first initiated by Lars Von Trier. It is no surprise that the filming of the entire wedding sequence very much reminds of that in Von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves”.
It is the extreme close-ups of eyes, lips, hands, and even some facial hair that come across as an eyesore. There are way too many close-ups that just weren’t required and suit neither the genre, nor the subject matter. In fact they take away from the scenes somewhat, by not showing us the visage of the actor during a scene, when his/her reaction or emotion is vital to the scene. It is in the latter half, that the drama begins to shed the subtlety, when the most important twist of the story is revealed, and the film dips into mawkish melodrama giving rise to histrionics and gawky over-sentimentality! The major twist is itself a cliché and a bankable ingredient for a weepy soap opera. But there are other events that follow, and at such timings, that you can’t help but think that the screenplay is taking an emotionally manipulative direction, by forcing some events that just weren’t necessary, but used merely because they, somehow, serve as good excuses to make the proceedings sappier!
That said, it is indeed noteworthy, how almost all the characters are very well written; they have a lot of depth and more importantly, the initial impression that is created about them, takes a drastic turn in some key events, and we are forced to see them in a different light. Of course, the convincing dynamics of the characters, are owing to the choice of actors that are immensely talented. Mads Mikkelsen brings a range of emotions to the otherwise stoic Jacob who is taken aback when he first learns of the shattering truth that hits like a bolt of lightning. Ditto for the mixed emotions and the inevitable awkwardness he displays, later, in one of the best directed scenes of the film. Rolf Lassgård is brilliant as the drunk, but loving father and business tycoon, whose real intentions, and hence the kind of person he is, becomes clear only later. Stine Fischer Christensen is cute and does a commendable job as the daughter Anna who gets a double whammy of deceit. And then we have Sidse Babett Knudsen as Helene, who finds herself in an extraordinary situation, by a twist of fate, following a seemingly strange coincidence, and a past that refuses to let go. It is a classy performance indeed.
What “After the Wedding” needed was a steady grip and restrained tone, that it maintains in the first half of the film, despite the plot contrivances, after which it nosedives into unnecessary melodrama and starts to come undone. Too bad, really!