begins with what it’s like to be in love: the smiles, the secret language, the humor peculiar to two and only two. Over dinner, Joachim (Lie Kaas) proposes to Cæcilie (Richter), and she says yes. They are young, attractive, good-hearted people, and the heart near swells to bursting with gladness that they have found each other. And then, minutes in, the idyll is over. He is hit by a car, partly the result of Joachim pausing to kiss his lover goodbye. It’s cruel, but not uncommon; Open Hearts
hinges on the depressing fact that our best intentions are very often what turns our world upside down. That’s what happens to Joachim and Cæcilie. The accident shatters his spine, paralyzes him permanently from the neck down. Joachim doesn’t want Cæcilie to waste her life on him (his words, not hers), so he shuts her out, shouts her out of his hospital room. Marie (Steen), the guilt-stricken wife and mother whose speeding car hit Joachim, wants to do something to help; she asks her doctor husband Niels (Mikkelsen) – a kind man and devoted father – to comfort the girl. And so Niels does, accompanying Cæcilie on walks, answering late-night calls, and finally – maybe inevitably – falling in love with her. It’s the oddest kind of infidelity, and a wholly sympathetic one, too – even as Niels is wrecking his marriage, there is light and hope in the small ways he and Cæcilie are saving each other. Out of compassion came love; out of best intentions, the upheaval of four lives. Open Hearts
is a Dogme 95 film, part of the loose Danish collective that holds its own to certain rules: no artificial lighting, no off-set props, no soundtrack (Open Hearts
fudges a bit on this last one, but to good effect). Because of the obsessive attention to these rules, early Dogme films practically drowned in their own piety, but as the collective matures, they’re loosening up. (The last Dogme picture, Italian for Beginners
, was billed almost comically as a "Dogme romantic comedy.") Gratefully, Open Hearts
never feels hamstrung by the group’s aesthetic. Bier’s jerky handheld camera is appropriate to the intercrossing, knotty loves, the low lighting suitable to the crawlspaces of the heart these ravaged characters meet up in. The Dogme pedigree rarely distracts; there is too much emotional investment to care much about dogmatic fidelity. Open Hearts
’ four lead characters (subtly, wonderfully played) shatter, then piece themselves back together before our eyes. They’ll all shatter again, but that’s what it’s like to be in love. Not the same kind of love as in the beginning – that love was uncomplicated, happily unencumbered – and not a better or worse kind of love. Just different. What comes from the best of intentions.