Dogme movement (1995-2005) is a terra incognita for me, although now it has officially existed only as a terminology thanks to the ubiquitous evasion of shooting on location with any cellphones or other handheld lighter gizmos, and its spirit has been ingested by more advanced mutants (e.g. mumblecore). But Susanne Bier is not merely a Dogme enthusiast, AFTER THE WEDDING (2006 7/10) is a redoubtable relationship dissection and OPEN HEARTS (the new Hannibal Mads Mikkelsen star in both films) treads the same territory to examine the complexity of humans' conundrum between desire and responsibility, ethics and emotions.
Two couples, one is engaged, another has 3 children, a car accident (not entirely abides by the Dogme rules though) turns their worlds upside down, a threat is common-or-garden both in the cinematic and real world; the life-changing mishap prompts an adultery between a middle class doctor and the disheartened fiancée, whose fiancé undergoes a permanent quadriplegia from the car accident where the doctor's wife is the offender.
The face-fixated close-ups extensively put those characters under scrutiny for their rational and irrational behaviors, natural light commingles with saturated palette (during the beginning and the ending) and a black & white lens of the blurry and grainy illusory fancy. The cast is sterling, a quartet of tug-of-war from Mikkelsen, Richter, Lie Kass and Steen, a humdrum-weary family man holds his seven-year-itch infatuation to a damsel-in-distress; a comfort-seeker with abiding guilt of abandoning her bed-ridden fiancé; a young paralyzer who ruthlessly deserts his fiancée for his incompetence as a proper man but still hankers for her company; a wife is rueful of her road rage and its tragic repercussions, suddenly devastated by her husband's utter betrayal; Steen's impromptu slapping and Mikkelsen's reaction are among the best on-screen intensified scenes I have even seen, three of the four leads end up in my yearly top 10 list (guess who narrowly missed the spot?).
But on the other hand, the melodramatic core of the story hobbles a soul-searching catharsis and empathetic introspection which would put the film onto an upper notch, Bier and DP Morten Søborg's camera is erratic but not dizzily shaky, the fly-on-the-wall intimacy allows us to take a much closer look at the symptoms and the cause of the frailty resides in every soul on earth, and offers us staying in a paralleled world, munches with palliative pills to ease our own troubles.