Open Hearts (Elsker Dig For Evigt) Reviews
Cecilie (Sonja Ritcher) is a cook in her early twenties who is deeply in love with and also recently engaged to Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). Their relationship is put to test when Joachim becomes paralyzed for life after a car accident. The woman who was driving the car (Paprika Steen) feels obliged to help the couple and pushes her husband Niels (Mads Mikkelsen) to comfort Cecilie, unaware of the devastating outcome.. Niels falls in love with Cecilie.
The thing about Dogme films is that they are capable of putting you in a very close position to the characters, almost in a crude way. Susanne Bier uses this honesty to gently place us inside the most closed space: the human psyche. Open Hearts does not just slam you with naked reality and intimate details - it does not want to shock you like most Dogme films, it takes you gently by the hand and allows you the same amount of confusion and indeterminateness the characters are feeling. And it does that equally; you can never blame any of the four protagonists even in their lowest moments because it is raw human emotions they are showing and simultaneously you are experiencing.
The film could leave you melancholic or hopeful, it depends on how you see it, but what I am well sure of is that it will give you no closure, no answers, no relief of any kind - and this is so heartbreaking, just like life itself. It puts you in direct contact with the awful/beautiful fact that despite its intensity and realness sometimes, all the spectrum of human emotions is transient. My eyes teared up at the end of the film, not because I felt sorry for anyone or anything, but because I felt betrayed by the film's stark honesty. I wanted an ending to this emotional mess I have witnessed/experienced and instead I was left clueless and disillusioned in the middle of nowhere.
Okay, enough with this subjective philosophical rambling. Let's talk about some technical aspects.
Although Bier breaks away with some of the Dogme rules, I thought the use of Super-8 camera to show short fantasy sequences is a brilliant touch to take you a few steps away from reality and bring you even closer to the characters. Anders Thomas Jensen's script is gripping and flows effortlessly even when characters do not say a word, which leads us to the carefully chosen and amazing cast. I personally think that a great deal of the genius of the performance in this film comes from Bier herself and the kind of free yet intimate atmosphere she has provided for her actors. She does not aim at getting the best angles or making them look attractive, she only allows them the freedom to be themselves no matter how that would look like.
Think of the Dogme 95 style meeting Michael Winterbottom's early minimalist melodrama and the topics of a Rohmer's Moral Tale. The result might sound as a rare mixture but, if analyzed correctly, all those three elements have pretty much many things in common. When thinking of this film, I think of that mixture and realize that such combination was a good idea for contemporary cinema. I have said it hundreds of times and I shall repeat it again: men cannot have the artistic sensibility of a woman. Bier displays events from a neutral point of view and, under Jensen's writing, orchestrates the conditions necessary for making everybody to suffer, whether they had it coming or not, but with a purpose of personal learning or growth.
Joachim becomes a character meant to make us reflect on the extent to which we can sympathize with a hateable person despite his horrific circumstances. He is an invitation for the viewer to be able to comprehend the suffering of others, but without justifying a self-destructive attitude that backfires on others as well.
Cecilie is a rather idealized depiction of the woman with a broken heart and her resulting conflict to define the term "love" properly, organizing her feelings in the process. My main issue is that she is one of the main characters, and yet does not show any real transformation. She is left like this tender, idealized embodiment of internal conflict. Even if the ending suggested a change, her acting didn't mirror that.
Niels, played by the awesome and now famous Mads Mikkelsen, is a man showcasing this awfully difficult trade-off between professionalism, unfaithfulness and being a family man. Oh yes, it's the same story being told for the 700th time, but it is about how you retell the same story, and not about telling a new story. His character shows complexity between layers of empathy and calmness, hidden behind a doctor's robe and his seemingly friendly bespectacled physiognomy. His transformation is probably the most important (and impressively delivered) of them all.
Although it starts with clichés flourishing everywhere and an increasing red alert of melodrama and sensationalism, Bier and co. utilize the preceding events for giving them a unique turn under the subtle and invasive lens of the Dogme 95 rules and prepares valuable lessons for everybody involved, no matter how unfair they might seem, because that's life. Although, again, whatever happened to Cecilie internally is completely lost to me. Her character is the biggest flaw of a very talented and powerful melodramatic film.
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.
The performance of Mikkelsen and Steen is splendid. Richer comes far behind, but fortunately her role is to be uncertain.
The whole thing is a masterpiece: Niels falls in love with Cecilie, even though he has a steady relationship with Marie, a family with kids. But he cannot resist, so he leaves. Such is life: the accident and the chain of events lead in situations like this. In normal life, the accident is just a person appearing somehow, somewhere... needing love just like Cecilie and Niels. And the past is left behind.
Then something often breaks the whole new love story, if nothing else the inner struggle with moral and ethics. Cecilie has to think over things, and Niels, already left from home, suddenly is left alone. And the things end up like this, like in normal life: you do not necessarily win when leaving everything behind without thinking, more probably you will loose...
Cecilie will most probabaly not stay with a man who is paralyzed - I bet she would not. But most probably she will not stay with Niels either... so tragic it is, one broken family, one man - Niels - living in uncertaintly, one woman seeking solutions but most probably not finding them in her old or the most recent relationship, but just later on, maybe in some years later...
But this is how it ends, leaving us thinking if Joachim and Cecilie will continue finally, or if Niels will end up with Cecilie, or if Cecilie just disappears... and Niels is left with his divorced feelings? Later life will give people who live this kind of things through some answers, but before one has to accept anguish and uncertainty.
"Open Hearts" was also very well acted. Mads Mikkelsen does one of his best roles and other characters shine as well. An intense film, still pretty slow. I was left stunned, and wanted to hug someone directly after it ended. Probably one of the better "real" Dogma 95 films out there - I would be glad to be proven wrong, though.
Pourquoi? Tout simplement parce que - eh oui, je l'affirme - Elsker dig for evigt est la plus ignoble des tragédies qu'il m'ait été donné de voir. Même l'appellation ''drame'' ne convient pas, et c'est peu dire que de décrire mon coeur serré, empoigné, chiffonné, assistant impuissant devant ce flot d'excès de réalisme, devant ces histoires d'amour qui s'entre-écorchent et s'entre-égorgent. Le coeur à découvert, nu, vulnérable, je tente de demeurer de marbre, mais je n'y peux pas, et le film m'attaque, la fiction m'agresse, le contenu me blesse.
C'est le coeur serré et la gorge sèche que j'ai achevé mon visionnement, sorti d'un long voyage cinématographique que je ne suis pas prêt d'avoir oublié, et qui ira probablement même jusqu'à influencer ma vie.