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Love at Odds 

Both men are Danes. One works with orphans in the slums of Mumbai. He owns little more than the sweaty work shirt on his back and the grimy ball cap on his head. The other man is a billionaire with business interests around the globe. He lives in luxury on a vast estate outside Copenhagen. Can these two radically different men conceivably have anything in common? Yes, answers director Susanne Bier in her Oscar-nominated After the Wedding. Each is a man foremost concerned with loving others.

Written by Anders Thomas Jensen, After the Wedding is the story of the collision between two individuals dedicated to achieving divergent ends. Jacob Pedersen (Mads Mikkelsen) is the more transparent of the two. Jacob is dedicated to helping the unfortunate. He has been in India for two decades where he distributes food to the hungry and provides shelter for about 50 youngsters who would otherwise be forced onto Mumbai's mean streets where a million children work as prostitutes. As we discover, however, Jacob is longer on good intentions than on organizational ability. Like many of his failed past projects, his orphanage will soon need to close if he cannot identify a source of funding.

Business tycoon Jorgen Hansson (Rolf Lassgard) could become Jacob's charitable "angel." We're never apprised of how the contact is first made between them, but Jacob learns that Jorgen may offer him a considerable grant that will enable him not only to maintain his orphanage but to expand it. Unfortunately, Jacob must fly to Copenhagen to meet with Jorgen as part of the grant-review process. Jacob considers himself through with Europe, and he despises rich people. Jacob's essential business trip also threatens to make him miss the birthday celebration for 8-year-old Pramod (Neeral Mulchandani), the undersized boy Jacob has cared for since Pramod was a baby. There is no legal connection between them, but Pramod is akin to Jacob's adopted son.

When Jacob arrives in Copenhagen, Jorgen parks him in a luxury suite that no doubt costs enough daily to keep Jacob's orphans in milk and rice for a month. When they finally meet, Jorgen shows scant interest in the presentation Jacob has prepared. Instead, Jorgen breezily announces that the decision on Jacob's grant must wait until after the wedding for Jorgen's daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen), and that Jacob must attend. At the wedding, Jacob discovers that Jorgen is married to Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), Jacob's old girlfriend, the lost love that still haunts his dreams. And so suddenly the picture kicks into high narrative and emotional gear. Is Jacob and Helene's former relationship a coincidence to Jorgen's consideration of Jacob's grant? Is it a factor? Is the grant a mere pretext for bringing Jacob first to Denmark and then to the wedding? If so, is there some sinister motive? Are we headed for a romantic triangle that will endanger Jacob's funding?

Some of our suspicions prove true, but nothing plays out in ways we might predict. After the wedding, still other secrets are revealed, and the professional relationship Jacob has hoped to establish with Jorgen becomes increasingly snarled in personal considerations. And at the knot of all these tangles is the film's concern with the core nature of our two central figures. One man is rich and lives like a king; the other is poor and lives little better than the destitute people he serves. Yet the picture begins its portrait of both with footage designed to illustrate their similarities. In Mumbai, Jacob plays soccer with his wards, roughhouses affectionately with Pramod and teaches English to obviously adoring students. In Denmark, Jorgen, an unmistakably doting father, reads bedtime stories to his twin boys, who are about Pramod's age, interacts playfully with his aging mother and cavorts lovingly with Helene while she soaks in a bubble bath. In their devotion to others they are strikingly similar. But nonetheless there is a telling difference: Jorgen loves the members of his family; Jacob has no family and with the exception of Pramod practices his devotion to the poor more as intellectual principle than as instinct. Jorgen finds joy in the love the Greeks distinguished as eros -- romance -- and philia -- family. Jacob finds the satisfaction of duty in agape -- the brotherly concern for humankind.

In the end, Jorgen makes Jacob a complicated proposal that is at once genuinely benevolent, callously manipulative and astonishingly selfish. At the same time, from Jacob's side, Jorgen's proposal can make Jacob's dreams come true beyond his wildest fantasy but at an indecently needless personal price. The picture doesn't tell us how to judge this offer or the two characters involved, and it doesn't assist in clarifying what to think Jacob should do. In the final analysis the picture's stimulating point is that human personalities and human affairs produce loves sometimes at odds. What's right and what's wrong are perhaps frustratingly dependent on how one looks at things.

click to enlarge Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) runs an orphanage for the children - of Mumbai, India, in  After the Wedding. - 2007 IFC FILMS
  • 2007 IFC Films
  • Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) runs an orphanage for the children of Mumbai, India, in After the Wedding.


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