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NEW REVIEW 

OPEN HEARTS
(Elsker dig for evigt)
Dir. Susanne Bier; writ. Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen; feat. Sonja Richter, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen, Paprika Steen, Stine Bjerregaard, Birthe Neumann, Niels Olsen (R)

Although the cinematic austerity of Dogme 95, the Scandinavian movement that forbids artificial lighting, commentative sound, voiceovers, makeup, lens filters, and overt editing, does not disable directors, it does seem to handicap characters. Early in Dogme's best-known product, Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, Stellan Skarsgard is crippled by an oil rig mishap. And we do not get very far into Open Hearts, a new Danish feature by Susanne Bier, before one of its principal characters is rendered paraplegic.

Stepping out of a car into traffic, Joachim (Kaas), a robust, young graduate student, is abruptly struck down. "He'll be able to think and talk," a surgeon informs Caecilie (Richter), the victim's passionately devoted fiancee. "That's all." Permanently paralyzed, Joachim takes to a hospital bed and gives up on his relationship with nubile Caecilie, urging her not to sacrifice her vitality to an impotent human wreck. "We were just unlucky," he concludes.

They were not the only ones. In the script's sole concession to melodrama, the driver who hits Joachim happens to be the wife of a doctor at the hospital named Neils (Mikkelsen). He tries to soothe Marie (Steen), who's wracked with guilt over what she did to Joachim: "It's not your fault. Things like that happen." Both try to comfort their temperamental teenage daughter, Stine (Bjerregaard), who was riding with her mother and nagging her to drive faster at the time of the accident. Marie urges her husband to comfort Caecilie, and though the adulterous result is not unexpected, the power of the ensemble is. Open Hearts seems like cinema verite, a veritable piece of open-heart surgery that bares irreconcilable feelings between and within people who have to contend with a world of accident and pretend they are responsible agents. Caught in a romantic maelstrom, Caecilie, Neils, Joachim, Marie, and Stine are all utterly credible and compelling. This is a film without villains or heroes, merely human beings - and a Dogmetic director - struggling to do their best with limited powers. •


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January 27, 2020

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