Friday, February 11, 2011

After the Wedding

Directed by: Susanne Bier
Produced by: Sisse Graum Olsen
Written by: Susanne Bier; Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen; Sidse Babett Knudsen
Music by: Johan Söderqvist
Cinematography: Morten Søborg
Release date: Denmark 24 February 2006
Running time: 120 minutes
Country: Denmark; Sweden
Language: Danish; Swedish; Hindi; English

The 2006 Danish film by Susanne Bier was nominated for the Oscar in foreign languages category, along with Pan’s Labyrinth and The Lives of Others in 2007. The later film, about the lurking evils of Nazi Germany, clinched the statuette; I would vote for the Guilermo Del Toro fantasy any day. In between, After the Wedding is an odd picture indeed. In one word, it’s a Pedro Almodovar melodrama presented as a meditation on shifting relationships. The plot is a recipe for disaster, yet the actors, especially Mads Mikkelsen (who rose to fame with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, and was introduced to the international audience as the James Bond nemesis in Casino Royal. Last year he played the laconic, one-eyed killing machine in Refn’s Valhalla Rising, Russian composer Stravinsky in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky and Draco in the Clash of the Titans remake. He is ruggedly handsome and has an imposing presence.), and Bier’s compositions, including her obsession with the actors’ eyes, make the film a compelling viewing.

What intrigued me most however was the India angle. The film begins and ends in India, the narrow slums of Mumbai before moving to the plush suburbs of Copenhagen. Mikkelsen plays Jacob, who volunteers for an orphanage in Mumbai and is quite attached to an 8-year-old Indian boy, Pramod, whom he has taken care of since childhood.

My question was why Mumbai slums? What purpose does it serve in the grand scheme of the film’s plot? Apparently nothing. Granted, the Mumbai setting moves the plot. Jacob needs money, otherwise the orphanage will close down. He finds a donor in a Danish millionaire, who however wants to meet him before they seal the deal. The point of the plot is to make Jacob confront his past. There would have been other ways of doing it, but why India? Perhaps it was to bring forth a contrast, between riches and poverty, between losing one’s family and finding family among strangers. (At one point, Jorgen, the millionaire, tells Jacob that he will donate enough money to feed 65,000 children for a years in India, which is more than the entire population of Denmark combined.)

Bier’s visuals of Bombay borders on poverty porn, yet looks very authentic. Even the use of Hindi by the Indian actors rings true (as opposed to Jimmy Mistry talking in accented Hindi in 2012.)

But After the Wedding is not about India. It’s about two men, Jacob and Jorgen, their past and present and their love for the same woman, Helene. Almodovar would feel quite at home with the story.

Jacob returns to Copenhagen after almost 20 years looking for the money promised by millionaire Jorgen to run the orphanage in India. It’s weekend, and Jorgen’s daughter is getting married. Jacob is invited to the wedding, which is visits reluctantly. There’s he meets Helene, his old flame, and finds out that she is married to Jorgen, and surprise, surprise, the bride, Anna, is actually Jacob’s daughter. Helene confronts her husband to ask what Jacob was doing in their house. Jorgen says he did not know it was the same Jacob. But, it cannot be just a co-incidence, can it, asks Jacob, as Anna learns about her biological father and comes to accept him. No, it was not an accident, but an well laid out plan on part of the millionaire, because as he says himself, he is good man.

As Jacob and Helene go through the routine of guilt and reconciliation, we are spared of the flashback about what happened between them 20 years ago (there are some hints in dialogues, but no scene). This was a wise decision which saves the film from falling into a traditional melodrama. Everything is played out here and now, and how the characters respond to it. (Another interesting point is the epilogue in Mumbai. Jacob returns to India for one last time. He offers to take Pramod with him to Denmark. But the young boy refuses. He likes it in Mumbai, even in the face of poverty.)

After the Wedding reminds me the 1974 Hindi film Aap Ki Kasam, where a jealous Rajesh Khanna dumps a pregnant Mumtaz imagining that she was having an affair with Sanjeev Kumar. Khanna then roams around as homeless wanderer and ends up attending his daughter’s wedding to finally clear all misunderstandings. The best thing about the film was the soundtrack by R D Burman, with gems like ‘Karwaten Badalte Rahen,’ ‘Paas Nahin Aana’ and ‘Zindagi Ke Safar Mein Guzar Jaate Hain.’

Bier’s latest, In A Better World, which moves between Denmark and Africa, won the best foreign language award at this year’s Golden Globe and has also been nominated for the Oscar in the same category.

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