What is it with the Danish and their suffocating domestic dramas? In Breaking the Waves
, Lars von Trier took a pair of perfectly attractive newlyweds and dropped them down an elevator shaft of despair so deep that when new bride Emily Watson finally commits suicide at the film’s end, it comes as a relief. While in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration
, a father’s seemingly uneventful birthday party erupts into a firestorm of familial accusations and condemnation. Maybe Carl Dreyer, who was putting a patent on emotionally oppressive films before films were making sound, is to blame for this lingering dread hanging over the Danish movie industry. Or maybe the malady can be traced back to Prince Hamlet. Or maybe it’s just those long, dark winters. Whatever the cause, however, the tradition continues, with writer/director Bier the latest in a long line of filmmakers who have mastered the art of making movies about people we can all thank God we’re not. For years Bier has been scooping up international awards by the barrelful for her films about adultery, paralysis, and mental impairment (Open Hearts
), and her latest, After the Wedding
, is another triumph of repressed despair. At its center is Jacob (Mikkelsen), an aid worker who runs an orphanage in Mumbai and whose insides are knotted up like a sheepshank. Summoned from India to meet with a potential benefactor (Lassgård), Jacob returns to Copenhagen to discover that not only has he flown 4,000 miles to beg money from a man who is married to the woman he was in love with 20 years ago but that they have a daughter whose age suggests the issue of paternity might yet be open to debate. Emotional bombs like these fall early and often in After the Wedding
, scattering the residue of infidelity, illness, and death into everyone’s quiet little lives. But even when the world is exploding around you, the story goes, there is still the possibility for redemption. Unfortunately, in Bier’s world, where even the most innocuous acts can result in emotional ruin, redemption is purgatorial in its own peculiar way.