Open Hearts

on February 21, 2003 by Kim Williamson
With what might be termed Scandinavian intimacy--cool yet warm--Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier ("Once in a Lifetime") examines how love can be remade and come apart in "Open Hearts" ("Elsker Dig for Evigt"). Bier shoots using the rules of Dogme, one particular being that only natural illumination is allowed. Sans set lamps, Bier faces the responsibility of lighting her characters from the inside, so to speak, and she does a remarkable job doing so as she tells her tale of two couples--one of long marriage and with children, one young, about to begin theirs--whose lives crash on the shoals of roadway accident.

Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) ends up paralyzed in a hospital bed; fiancée Cecilie (Sonja Richter) spends toils to break through the hostility toward all that his sudden but permanent lifechange has engendered in him. Feeling guilt, wife Marie (Paprika Steen) supports the effort of her physician husband Niels (Mads Mikkelsen) to help Cecilie adjust and carry on. Soon, Niels and Cecilie have adjusted to each other and they carry on an affair. Although Niels still loves Marie and Cecilie loves Joachim, and both know that Niels has family obligations dear to him, they face the question, Should we desert those attachments for this new one?

If "Open Hearts" has a flaw, it is that the ultimate answer reached by Niels--who is the film's focus--is based on a consideration that is perhaps often persuasive in real life but which in this creative work that is a distillation of real life seems without meaning: younger, blonder, prettier. Bier has admitted the documentary flavor of her film, but one doesn't make a documentary of fiction; filmgoers at "Open Hearts'" close could find themselves asking, "And so?" But, although the "so" is not there, the film's other elements--script, acting, cinematic style--brim with intelligence and feeling. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Sonja Richter, Paprika Steen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas. Directed by Susanne Bier. Written by Anders Thomas Jensen. Produced by Vibeke Windelov. A Newmarket release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 114 min.

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