Elsker dig for evigt
starring Sonja Richter, Mads Mikkelsen, Paprika Steen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
screenplay by Susanne Bier & Anders Thomas Jensen
directed by Susanne Bier
by Walter Chaw Susanne Bier's first Dogme 95 film Open Hearts (Elsker dig for evigt) is the Danish movement's twenty-eighth and the second by a female director after last year's Italian for Beginners. It reveals the austere, half-snooty/half-tongue-in-cheek manifesto as a surprisingly effective platform for a reinvention of the woman's picture--a resurrection of the estrogen melodramas circa Mildred Pierce, the legitimizing of the soap opera genre fallen on disrepute since the invention of soaring violins and Julia Roberts. The limiting constraints of Dogme 95, most of them aimed at stripping filmmaking of all artifice, seems to purify the emotionalism latent in stories of paralyzed lovers and star-crossed priests--perhaps the least expected offshoot of a movement that is not only extremely distracting, but probably began life as something of a joke.
Cæcilie (Sonja Richter, making her feature debut) and Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) are in love; the film opens with his proposal to her, but begins when he's hit by a car and paralyzed from the neck down. Niels (Mads Mikkelson) is the husband of the driver of the fateful car, Marie (Paprika Steen), and father to petulant teen Stine (Stine Bjerregaard). Marie asks Niels to comfort Cæcilie; Niels and Cæcilie begin an affair.
Simple and familiar, Open Hearts leaves a mark by understanding that the simplicity of a story only scratches the surface of the panoply of complex human emotions feeding it. The picture resembles and surpasses Bergman's sour, misogynistic Scenes from a Marriage and even David Hugh Jones and Harold Pinter's Betrayal in that it's neither studied nor mannered. The intimacy of Dogme's handheld style precludes much theatricality by itself, but the performances are to a one so transparent that it beggars the imagination. Best, Bier switches stock during a handful of fantasy scenes that honour the strictures of Dogme by actually looking worse (grain and camera whine, intact)--a device that packs an emotional wallop for the devastating simplicity of these flights of fancy. They are either the dream of the quadriplegic of waving a hand or the hope of the girlfriend of one last meaningful touch, and for as maudlin as it sounds, it works in ways surprising and overwhelming.
Open Hearts is heartbreaking and true. It avoids manipulation and formula with the grace of an ensemble completely inhabiting their roles, providing a journey as moving as it is revealing. Packed with quiet, wise revelations, the most stunning truth of the piece may be that for as technologically advanced and structurally clever our entertainments have become, the mysterious machinations of the human heart remain the most compelling entertainment and, ultimately, the most rewarding. Originally published: February 28, 2003.