The Reeler


March 29, 2007

After the Wedding

Outrageous confluence of worst-case scenarios pushes Danish/Indian melodrama beyond the pale

Sometimes a movie's ostensibly good intentions (read: liberal, humane, politically conscious without ever getting beyond basic pieties) only magnify its myopic worldview. So it goes with After The Wedding, a film whose absurd potboiler premise strains for significance by annexing the topics of Indian poverty and terminal illness to a Lifetime melodrama and bookending it all with Sigur Ros for maximal resonance. The plot is an outrageous and manipulative confluence of worst-case scenarios; offensive because it begs to be taken seriously, After the Wedding beats an emotional reaction out of the viewer by any means necessary.

Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), an expat Dane, runs a faltering orphanage in Bombay in between chain-smoking and glowering into space. Short on money, he's forced to return to Copenhagen for the first time in 20 years to meet with potential billionaire benefactor Jorgen (Rolf Lassgärd). Jacob is the least effective kind of do-gooder: not content with his own commitment to the cause, he must actively oppose anyone who doesn't share his passion. He's the kind of guy who finds his obscenely plush hotel suite to be a personal affront to the children of India. "You're an angry man," the would-be donor interrupts him not long into their meeting. "That's good. It gives you drive."

Jorgen is Jacob's reverse image. Both love their kids: Jacob’s kids aren’t “his” so much as a human manifestation of his angry ideology, but he treasures them like biological offspring; Jorgen is a self-made billionaire whose kids are an extension of everything he enjoys about his life. What Jorgen and Jacob have in common, however, is Jorgen's wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who left Jacob in India after he slept with her friend. Jacob and Helene are reunited when Jacob attends the wedding of Jorgen's daughter, (who is actually Jacob's daughter). Neither Helene nor Jorgen is aware that the Jacob who comes begging for funds (and whom Jorgen invites to the wedding) is her ex, ratcheting the probability factor to the astronomical level. It’s the kind of unwitting coincidence that jettisons suspension of disbelief, no matter how many times the characters say, "It's just too much of a coincidence.” Yeah it is, even as the characters attempt to absolve the screenwriter.

Despite the contrived plotting and millions of dollars at stake, there's less going on than meets the eye. Jacob is a case study in excessive guilt, Jorgen is a model of disciplined happiness, and the properties of both intersect at a woman. Absolution of guilt for inverse reasons -- Jacob for his former treatment of Helene, Jorgen for only caring about his privileged life -- is on the table for each man. Yet the real absolution is for the (presumably) well-heeled audiences this film seems to target: guilty liberals who are too busy to do anything about the vague feeling that they should do something about "the world."

"Do I have to be on the other side of the world to get your help?" Jorgen yells at Jacob after revealing (SPOILER) that he has cancer and, in a preposterous either-or proposition, that he will grant the Bombay orphanage an endowment only if Jacob agrees to come take over his family after he’s passed on. Take-home message: the starvation and death of thousands of infants roughly equates, in karmic scale, to the good done by coddling your billionaire friends and leaving the fieldwork to someone else. In the end, After the Wedding is an unpleasant, manipulative and, frankly, evil movie.

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Comments (1)

I kept waiting for this review to begin. It's competent for a plot summary but little else. Just more of the same old, same old.

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