"After the Wedding" is a terrific, unhurried film with unexpected plot twists and compelling acting.
The Danish film was nominated this year for an Oscar for best foreign film. It's well-deserved: Behind a clash of cushioned wealth and abject poverty, the story unflinchingly examines attempts at reconciliation and redemption by people battered by their failings.
The story surrounds Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, bad guy Le Chiffre in last year's remake of "Casino Royale"), who operates a financially struggling orphanage in desperately poor Bombay, India. He's summoned to Denmark to meet a prospective benefactor, regretfully leaving behind 8-year-old Pramod, whom he has raised from infancy, but promising to return in time for the boy's birthday.
In Copenhagen, Jacob is introduced to Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), who is prepared to give millions to the orphanage but will need more time to arrive at a decision. In the meantime, Jacob accepts the billionaire's invitation to join him and his wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), for the marriage of their daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen) the following day on the grounds of their palatial estate.
The shock and anguish on the faces of both Helene and Jacob when they spot each other portends what is to come. It's at this point that the story's unforeseen turns -- and fireworks -- begin, but to say more would ruin the surprises in store.
As the humanitarian Jacob, Mikkelsen's hardened face and wary eyes convey more than his economic use of language. After years of acting irresponsibly, he has found his calling at the orphanage, but his barely concealed anger and solitary ways point to unhealed scars.
Jorgen is a supreme manipulator who likes the bottle and having his own way, and Lassgard is terrific portraying him as a loving family man one minute and privileged bully the next. Why Jorgen has summoned Jacob is a mystery, since it's quickly apparent that funding humanitarian projects is not high on his list of things to do.
Director Susanne Bier ("Open Hearts," "Brothers") smartly lets the story slow-cook until, like pudding that comes to a boil, she stirs furiously and then allows it to cool before readying a new batch. Bier is fond of close-ups that just mask the eyes, and capturing small but telling gestures and details. She resists portraying the lead characters simplistically, showing their imperfections within the context of mostly good intentions.
"After the Wedding" is a sure bet to carry the viewer along on its emotional roller-coaster. That's a vow.
AFTER THE WEDDING
3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgard, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Stine Fischer Christensen
DIRECTOR: Susanne Bier
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
RATING: R for language and a scene of sexuality.
THE LOWDOWN: A worker in a Bombay orphanage is in for a surprise after being summoned to meet a prospective benefactor in Copenhagen. In Danish, Swedish and Hindi with English subtitles.