Director Susanne Bier’s new film, After the Wedding, can be hostile, threatening with its opening scene to become an extended promotional reel touting white charity in the slums of the third world. A twee strain of Sigur Rós denotes the earnestness of the sorrowful Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), who leaves an Indian orphanage for Denmark in order to frustratingly pitch a project to the obscenely rich Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), who gets a much thumpier introductory soundtrack courtesy of the Weather Girls. These song choices, though, aren’t so much character references as they are signs of events to come.
Bier and co-screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen tease Jacob and audience alike, whisking us to a wedding where Jacob bumps into an old flame, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), now married to Jørgen, whose daughter, Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), is actually his own. For Anna, then, it’s raining daddies, and After the Wedding charts with unbecoming cinematographic frenzy the windfall of the dying Jørgen’s conspiracy to install Jacob into the lives of his family.
Bier would appear to be her own worst enemy, given that the film’s camera seems to constantly register the panic she feels now that she isn’t working under the dictates of the Dogme manifesto. Note the extreme close-ups of people’s faces nonsensically intercut with shots of taxidermied animals whose piercing glass eyes anticipate body horrors that never materialize.
More sensitive are the script’s Shakesperean pretenses, which pull the rug out from under audiences who may underestimate Jørgen’s potential for goodness because of his financial wealth. The wunderkind Jensen’s scripts are all schematic and prone to stock characters, but they are soap operas after all—full of great sensitivity and compassion, even for the most fallible of human creatures—and After the Wedding is beautifully performed by its eager cast.