Open Hearts

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Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Sonja Richter, Mads Mikkelsen, Paprika Steen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Stine Bjerregaard

Director: Susanne Bier

OPEN HEARTS focuses on the breakdown of two relationships: Niels, a doctor in his 30’s, is married to Marie and they have three children; Joachim and Cecilie are younger and have recently become engaged. In an instant their lives are turned upside down when a car that is being driven by Marie hits Joachim and leaves him paralysed from the neck down. Following the accident he is bitter and self-pitying, and he reacts angrily to Cecilie’s attempts to help him; in turn she is left feeling alone and distraught and seeks solace in the company of Niels.

This latest release from the Danish Dogme school of filmmaking has definite echoes of the work of Mike Leigh: ordinary people living routine lives that are disrupted when something unexpected happens and all concerned are forced to confront extraordinary circumstances as tensions grow and emotions run amok. As in the films of Leigh there are no simple solutions to the emotional entanglements in which the characters find themselves ensnared, but there are personal epiphanies that provoke the individuals concerned to reassess their relationships with renewed clarity. Resolutions are messy and makeshift but ultimately obstacles are overcome and dilemmas are resolved and by the end of the film the main characters are ready to move on with their lives.

Shorn of the melodramatic stylings normally associated with such films OPEN HEARTS relies on the performers to provide momentum and, as we witness Niels’ furtive forays into adultery or Marie’s growing despair, the actors manage to highlight human frailties with a heartfelt resonance. In addition, the documentary-style camerawork and stark unaffected lighting heighten the immediacy of Niels’ infidelity and the turmoil created in its wake. At almost two hours long the film never runs out of steam and if you enjoyed the glossy soap operatics of FAR FROM HEAVEN then try OPEN HEARTS as a gritty, but worthy, counterpoint.

4 out of 6 stars