I’ve had something like a Danish withdrawal after binge-watching my way through three seasons of Borgen, the most excellent Danish political TV series. I got rather used to the sound of Danish vowels and occasional tak coming from my TV, so I watched this 2006 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.
As a nice surprise, the movie featured Sidse Babett Knudsen who was so brilliant as the lead actress on Borgen; I guess the Danish film industry is a fairly small world. I however chiefly rented the film for Mads Mikkelsen, who over the years has become one of my favourite actors to look out for. His striking onscreen presence has a touch of otherworldly, and his angular chiselled face is truly remarkable, somehow both handsome and off-putting. I’ve seen him in roles where he was beyond creepy, and roles infused with a deep melancholy, and After the Wedding definitely draws on the latter.
The movie opens with the chaos, noise and colour of India and introduces us to Jacob (Mikkelsen), a humanitarian aid worker running an orphanage. The place is in dire need of funding, and is in danger of closing when Jacob receives an offer of help from a Danish magnate, with a peculiar request to see Jacob face-to-face. Though Jacob is extremely reluctant to return to his native land, he has no choice but to oblige.
Soon enough, Jacob lands in Copenhagen and meets his billionaire, Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), who is both welcoming and opaque and carries himself with the entitlement of the very rich. To Jacob’s dismay, Jorgen informs him that he’s only considering helping the orphanage, and casually invites Jacob to his daughter’s weekend wedding where, he explains, he has a chance to get to know Jacob better. This seemingly random invitation begins to feel less so when Jacob runs into an old flame, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is – surprise – now married to Jorgen.
The film drops a doozie of a bombshell on Jacob mere 30 minutes in so I can’t reveal any more about the story. Let’s just say that what begins as a simple clash of class and values morphs into a powerful family drama, before the film adds yet another thought-provoking twist that makes the viewer ponder the ethics of mind games and manipulation done with a good intent. It could all have veered into the overly melodramatic soap opera stuff, if not for the raw and kinetic filmmaking, with the abrupt editing and penchant for extreme close-ups of the actors’ faces. The cast is uniformly excellent and there is one particular moment, when a character’s protective shell is stripped away to reveal utter anguish underneath, that was almost uncomfortable to watch. I mean it as a compliment of course.