Another Underrated List is yet another list of so called “underrated” films from yet another white guy who writes about films on the internet. This issue I’m spotlighting, the Danish melodrama, After the Wedding.
If I asked you, “What is the greatest OH-SH*T!! moment in all of film?” your response would most likely be, “I am your father from The Empire Strikes Back.” As the self-proclaimed biggest Star Wars fan in a 25-mile radius, you would think that I’d have the same response. That was the case before I stumbled upon Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding.
Now, don’t worry; I’m not going to give you any spoilers to the aforementioned moment. (I’m not that kind of despicable person.) But, because of that, I can’t give you much of the plot either. What I will tell is that in After the Wedding, the main character Jacob, played by the always incomparable Mads Mikkelsen, runs an orphanage in India. Jacob has forsaken his native Denmark, but much to his chagrin, must return there to gain funding for the orphanage. The wealthy businessman Jorgen, played by Rolf Lassgård, who’s one such donor, invites Jacob to the namesake wedding, which at the 31-minute mark, host’s the OH-SH*T moment.
Now, After the Wedding, is very much a melodrama, but it’s also so much more. Please don’t let that label deter you in any way. While the revelations can be a seemingly overdramatic, the characters reactions to them are exceedingly raw and human. The aforementioned, O-SH*T!! moment isn’t played for cheap thrills. It played with the upmost seriousness and realism. This is in large parts thanks to Dogma 95.
Though not adhering to Dogma 95’s regulations in After the Wedding (Check out Open Hearts), Susanne Bier’s roots in the movement are distinctly felt. The camera is handheld for most of the shots, forcing us almost uncomfortably close to the characters.
But the true genius of Bier’s and Morten Søborg’s cinematography is in the way they shot the eyes. In After the Wedding the eyes of the characters, have more to tell us than the words they speak. Below you’ll find one these shots:
Mikkelson’s eyes convey so much. They are host to a burning inner truth. A truth that he knows but everyone else in the room is oblivious to. Or take this one:
You can take a good guess of what he’s saying into the phone, without having heard a word of dialogue.
Mads Mikkelson is known primarily to western audiences for his role as villains, such as Le Chiffe in Casino Royale and as Dr. Hannibal Lector in NBC’s cancelled too-soon Hannibal. But in his Danish work, Mikkelson’s character’s emotions and humanity can exist. In After the Wedding, Jacob has the straight face that makes Mikkelson’s villainous turns memorable. But it is also a human face, a face that contains buried emotions just waiting to burst to the surface.
The other actors in After the Wedding are equally gifted at holding back emotion until it bursts. Rolf Lassgård’s Jorgen, on the surface, is a blow hard, businessman stereotype. Inside, he is full of fear.
At this point I must pause and correct an error on my part. I have not yet mentioned Sidse Babett Knudsen and her performance as Helene. She is the anchor of After the Wedding. Knudson plays Helene with a distinguished, motherly grace. While she is the cause of the film’s overall drama, she never acts in an overdramatic way. Knudson’s performance is nuanced, acknowledging and accepting that she made mistakes but never apologizing for them.
Rounding out the cast is Stine Fischer Christensen and Christian Tafdrup as the bride and groom to which the title refers and Neeral Mulchandani as young boy in Jacob’s orphanage who he considers his son. All are terrific, yet I find myself wishing their characters were given more to do. After the Wedding’s ending leaves a bit to be desired, (Let’s be honest. So does this essay’s ending) but I assure it’s well worth your time. Come for the O-SH*T Moment and stay for the characters.
And on a final note, if I somehow haven’t convinced you to watch After the Wedding yet (A PREPOSTEROUS NOTION, I know! I probably didn’t even convince you to read this entire essay.), it has not one but TWO amazing scenes set to “It’s Raining Men”!
Originally published in January of 2018