Much noise has been made in recent years about the decline of Hollywood film and the rise in prominence of European cinema. While several nations have had significant gains in popularity and critical acclaim in recent years, others still await a breakthrough. Even though Germany's The Lives of Others won the Academy Award for Foreign Language Film this past spring, Denmark's After the Wedding represents a huge leap ahead for the country's film industry.
Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is a Dutch national running a struggling orphanage in rural India. His boss sends him back to his hometown of Copenhagen to close a funding arrangement with a rich businessman named JÃ˜rgen, who invites him to his daughter's wedding that weekend. While reluctantly attending the wedding that Jacob learns the bride's mother, Helene, is his lover from two decades past, and the bride is really his daughter. From there, everyone's secrets begin to unravel.
The winner of countless awards in Europe, After the Wedding is the first Danish film to be nominated for the Foreign Language Film Oscar since 1996 and the first purely Danish nominee since 1989. The third collaboration between writer/director Susanne Bier and writer Anders Thomas Jensen, After the Wedding embraces the elements of the Dogme95 style of filmmaking. Pioneered by a group of European filmmakers, including Dutch legend Lars von Trier, Dogme95 utilizes handheld cameras, natural lighting and strenuous restrictions on other technical elements. The result is an immersive atmosphere that sucks the viewer in, even though the majority of the film's plot is people talking.
Given the film's style, the main reason for After the Wedding's success is undoubtedly the acting. Best known for crying tears of blood as James Bond's nemesis Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Mads Mikkelsen is captivating as Jacob. He shares scenes with actors who, while not nearly as well-known to North American audiences, are standouts. Rolf Lassgård's Jørgen alternates between the loving father and shrewd businessman with ease, and his scenes late in the film are some of its best. Cast as Helene, Sidse Babett Knudsen's performance could've degenerated into a series of sobbing fits, but managed instead to anchor the film at its emotional core. Stine Fischer Christensen is excellent as a daughter meeting the father she never knew.
After the Wedding is a film that could have easily been laughably bad had it been made by Americans. Given the story elements, it could have turned into a menagerie of absurd plot twists, shouting matches and melodrama. Thankfully, it emerged as one of the most emotionally honest and mature films in recent memory. The characters behave as if they existed in real life, which makes empathizing with them effortless. Aside from a few too many lingering shots of eyes and lips, After the Wedding is a perfect example of the success of European cinema.