Open Hearts

It’s probably fair to say that the time has gone when every new ‘Dogme’ release was the object of great excitement and discussion. Perhaps that’s a positive thing, given that the movement’s back-to-basics approach aimed to strip away all the technical paraphernalia of modern movie-making and reconnect with the essentials of filming a story. Susanne Bier’s latest drama is a case in point, for here the stripped-down technique puts us in the thick of the drama in such a way that we stop noticing the film-making after a while. Partly, that’s also because the emotions on display are so bracingly direct. Cecilie (Sonja Richter) and Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) are young, in love, and recently engaged. Their future is ripe with promise until it’s suddenly taken away from them. Joachim is left paralysed from the neck down when he’s hit by a car. Marie (Paprika Steen), the other driver, is stricken with guilt, which is why she’s keen to get her husband Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), a surgeon at the hospital where Joachim is being looked after, to do all he can to help distraught Cecilie with support and information. With Joachim understandably preferring to face his altered circumstances alone, she needs a shoulder to cry on . . .
It’s tempting to think that if Jean Renoir ever made a ‘Dogme’ film it might look like this. Bier and writer Anders Thomas Jensen (who also penned the delightful Mifune) negotiate their way through these escalating personal crises with an unyielding sense of fairness. A lesser piece of work would have opted for easy audience manipulation, but there’s none of that here. Open Hearts is every bit as wise and incisive as a Mike Leigh film, but without the class hang-ups.
(Denmark, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 114 mins.)

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