Early on in Susanne Bier's Oscar Nominated (Best Foreign Film 2006) film "After The Wedding", Danish expat-in-India Jacob (the solid Mads Mikkelsen) is faced with the prospect of reluctantly returning to his homeland after twenty years to meet with a mysterious man who is offering the necessary funding to keep his school/orphanage open. When explaining to Pramod (his adopted son-of-sorts) that he must leave, the precocious eight year old asks about the wealth of people in Denmark and finally concludes, "If I was rich, I'd be happy."
Soon after, when we delve deeply into the lives of the proposed benefactor and his family, we see that this proclamation certainly does not apply to all people. Or, at the very least, it definitely does not apply to billionaire Jorgen (the authoritative Rolf Lassgard) or his family.
Although it seems like it might at first. The jump from the teeming Indian squalor to the lush green Danish countryside almost jarringly illustrates the contrast of cultures (and that contrast is definitely underscored by patriarch Jorgen blasting "It's Raining Men" in his SUV); the disparity between the Third World and the First World is indeed extreme (the difference is Two Worlds, by the way - I did the math). It's quite comical to see Jacob, upon arrival, trying to adjust to the cushy confines of the hotel where Jorgen houses him, as he can't figure out how to work the electronic amenities.
When Jacob finally meets with Jorgen, his pitch is given short shrift by the busy billionaire: "We're through," Jorgen says impatiently, leaving Jacob's presentation video mostly unseen. But he still leaves the donational door a bit ajar as he invites him to his daughter's wedding, where Jacob could get some more face time. This seems like a good plan at first, as Jacob has nothing else to do while in town, but revelations at the ensuing reception reveal that all is not as it seems. Indeed, when newly-betrothed bride Anna (played by perky Stine Fischer Christensen) rises to make an unconventional speech and says, "Mom's waiting for something to go horribly wrong," well it turns out that Mom (aka Helene) (Sidse Babett Knudsen, in a deeply-layered performance) doesn't have to wait long, and all of their lives are soon turned upside-down.
As an unabashed fan of Scandinavian cinema, I had high expectations for this film, and it didn't disappoint in most respects. The crisp, naturalistic cinematography and unapologetic (although occasionally a bit melodramatic) exploration of emotions is all to be expected. Also always welcome are the sardonic, dry lines of humor and the quirky characters (such as online gambler Grandma, who - according to Helene - is senile "only when she wants to be" and is mostly seen complaining about her laptop's wireless internet reception).
A couple of aspects of this film didn't quite work for me, however. First, I found the multitude (maybe between 20-30 close-ups) of shots of single eyes was a bit overdone and took me out of the narrative flow, without having enough of a symbolic upside. Also, some of the scenes teetered just at the edge of being a bit too maudlin and soap-operatic, but I guess life sometimes does get that way, and the actors are never unconvincing.
Finally, some of the tonal shifts were a bit too uneven in places, as the film careens from joy to sorrow in split-seconds that can be unnerving in such an otherwise slowly-paced film. But about that pacing: others may complain that this film could have been a bit cut to a more streamlined length, but I personally love the lingering and the loitering that takes place in movies like this - I feel we get to know as much about the characters during their "down time" as we would when there's "something happening."
Ultimately, I feel this film ends up being an evocative exploration of whether or not to to tell the truth, of when to tell the truth, and of how to tell the truth even when it's difficult. And telling the truth when it's difficult is something this movie is very good at doing. Four stars.
(p.s. I'm purposely not telling you who says this review's title quote because I don't want to spoil it for you.)