The film opens in Mumbai. But it avoids the standard Kodak images of Mumbai. No Gateway of India, no Hanging Gardens, etc - the kind of scenes I saw eight and a half years ago from the back of a taxi. Instead it pictures children playing football in an orphanage, and the mission’s manage Jacob handing out food from the back of a truck.
The mission is running out of money. There’s a promise of a cash injection from a wealthy Danish business man. But Jacob has to go to Copenhagen to negotiate the deal. He makes a deal with little Pramod, a boy he’s help bring up since birth, that he’ll return in time for his eighth birthday in ten day’s time.
Contrast the After the Wedding’s opening scenes with the opulence of Jacob’s luxury penthouse suite, plasma screen TV, bar, personal sauna. It’s a different world, and one that he isn’t comfortable with.
Before going on, I need to look back to the only other Danish film I’ve seen - King’s Game back in September 2005. A political thriller (well, thriller’s a bit too strong a term). Lots of complicated relationships. A lack of straight-forward behaviour. And so too with the family relationships on show in After the Wedding.
Visiting the offices of Jorgen, it feels like doors should be opening. Yet, the film paints a picture of doors closing (both physically and metaphorically) and of obfuscation and delay.
At a loose end over the weekend, Jacob is invited to Jorgen’s daughter Anna’s wedding. Why? Well, why not? He’s being treated like a family friend, rather than a charity looking for a donor. Jacob recognises Jorgen’s wife Helene as an old flame from college days, and there’s a revelation at the wedding reception. I’ll not spoil the surprise, but it’s not so obscure that you’ll have difficulty figuring it out.
And so the film moves into its second phase - after the wedding - playing out the consequences for the rest of the film.
The film asks a lot of questions about what people’s drive and motivation. What drives Jacob’s missionary zeal? Are his Indian ties stronger than his Danish ones? What motivates Jorgen to make a charitable donation? Blood money? Revenge? Why does he drink so much! And how does Anna deal with the pressure of marriage, family, unfaithfulness and death all crammed together.
Delay after delay forces Jacob to change his return travel plans. The legal red tape of a trust fund is untangled. But a precondition stating that Jacob must remain in Denmark to administer the trust seems a step too far.
“Why do I have to live on the other side of the world to get your help?”
Is it worth it to help 65,000 children in India by helping two or three people in Denmark? Who needs him the most? Pramod?
It’s no blockbuster of a film, but it’s well shot, and a fine example of Danish cinema, directed by Susanne Bier. A tale of tangled emotions and personal ethical conundrums. And a some nice shots of decaying plants.