Reviewer's Rating 4 out of 5   User Rating 4 out of 5
Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt) (2003)
15

Acutely observed and beautifully written, Susanne Bier's relationships drama is a painful exploration of broken lives.

Made according to the austere filmmaking guidelines laid down by a group of Scandinavian filmmakers in the Dogme manifesto (eg "The film must not contain superficial action", "Genre movies are not acceptable"), it fails to match the series' one truly great film - "Festen" - but steers well clear of the contrived, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual bilge of "The King is Alive". This is a powerful, true work.

Love and existential angst is the order of the day, when a malign act of fate draws the happily married Niels (Mads Mikkelsen) towards a lonely twentysomething girl named Cecile (Sonja Richter - who, somewhat incongruously, bears a striking resemblance to British TV presenter Michaela Strachan).

As their relationship deepens, his wife (Paprika Steen) remains blissfully ignorant, but their teenage daughter begins to suspect. And is Cecile really after love, or purely sympathy?

Originally planned as a romantic comedy, "Open Hearts" evolved into something altogether darker as Anders Thomas Jensen and Bier scripted. There are still a couple of chuckles - a brutally blunt doctor proves unintentionally amusing, and Cecile's bitter fiancé has a fine line in profanity - but a fluffy laugh-in this is not.

Nor should even the most devoted cineastes consider it a date movie - unless you're in a relationship you wish to end.

There's a warmth and humanity to the characters that softens the bleakness, but it's still gruelling. "You can't have everything you want. You just can't. You have to choose", Niels tells his greedy children, even as he tries to have his cake and eat it.

It's worth the gloom, however. Mikkelsen is an impressive, hangdog lead, and Steen is a terrific actor - giving a nuanced, emotive performance in a sometimes ragged, always affecting picture. A tribute to humans, in all our faded glory.

In Danish with English subtitles.

End Credits

Director: Susanne Bier

Writer: Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen

Stars: Sonja Richter, Mads Mikkelsen, Paprika Steen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas

Genre: Drama, World Cinema

Length: 113 minutes

Cinema: 04 April 2003

Country: Denmark

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