Family Reunion

Running time 120 minutes
Directed by Suzanne Bier
Written by Suzanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen
Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgård, Christian Tafdrup, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen

Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding, from a screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen, based on a story by Ms. Bier and Mr. Jensen, may be the strangest and most surprising film you’ll see this year, in that its character development runs counter to the expectations aroused by its narrative sequencing and its frequently mysterious and intrigue-laden close-ups of people’s eyes in isolation from the rest of their faces. The story begins straightforwardly enough in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, where Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is busy running an orphanage for abandoned Indian children. He is especially close to 8-year-old Pramod (Neeral Muchandani), a child he has brought up from infancy and informally adopted as his own. After the brief visit to the orphanage of a Danish financier named Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), Jacob is informed by his boss, Mrs. Shaw (Meenal Patel), that the financier has offered to donate $3 million to the orphanage, money that is desperately needed for its survival. There is one condition: Jacob must return to Denmark to complete the paperwork on the donation. It is then that we learn that Jacob hasn’t been back to Denmark in 20 years. The first mystery: Why? Jacob is reluctant to leave Mumbai, but his superior is adamant: It’s the only way the orphanage can continue to function. Before he leaves, Jacob promises the crestfallen Pramod that he will be gone for only eight days, and that he will certainly be back for the boy’s birthday.

When the action shifts to Copenhagen, we get to see much more of Jørgen, the financier, in his daily routines. He comes over as a dominant, forceful, even manipulative personality. At the moment, he is overseeing the preparations for the wedding of his daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen) to one of his employees, Christian (Christian Tafdrup). Jørgen seems happily married to Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and they have, in addition to Anna, two somewhat younger children, Martin (Frederick Gullits Ernst) and Morten (Kristian Gullits Ernst), whom Jørgen shamelessly spoils.

Jacob arrives late to the wedding and sits in the back. Helene turns to look at the newcomer and seems somewhat surprised at what she sees. She turns again to make sure of whom she has seen, but her face remains expressionless. The second mystery: What is their story? At the post-wedding banquet, Anna, in the manner of the recent Danish Dogme films, rises to make a speech even though she acknowledges apologetically that brides are not supposed to speak at their own weddings. She reveals that she has known for a long time that Jørgen was not her real father, but nonetheless he has been the best father any daughter could have. When Jacob and Helene exchange glances, we know the rest. But one big question remains: Why has Jørgen stage-managed this reunion? What are his intentions? What are his motives?

The answers to these questions are not long in coming, and I won’t spoil the movie for you by revealing them—suffice it to say that our opinions of the characters undergo subtle changes, particularly when it involves our ingrown prejudices regarding financiers and seeming humanitarians. The performances of Mr. Lassgård, Mr. Mikkelsen, Ms. Knudsen and Ms. Christensen head up a splendid ensemble, both in Copenhagen and Mumbai. One final hint: The heart of the narrative is much more in Denmark than India, which ends up being exploited for its more colorful production values.

Family Reunion