Open Hearts

Open Hearts


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There are situations in life that by their innate predictability become clichés. In reality, they are different, but the perception remains fixed, as if a crime of passion, or the anguish of a lost child, follow recognisable patterns.

Cecilie (Sonja Richter) starts an affair with Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), a doctor at the hospital where her fiance (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) lies paralysed after being hit by a car, driven by Niel's wife Marie (Paprika Steen). The liaison causes disruption and heartache. Marie tells Niels, "She's not much older than the shirt you are wearing." She's blonde and 23.

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Love like this won't last. Marie will never be able to trust again. Niels leaves home and lives in a friend's cupboard. His children are confused; his life falls apart; Cecilie plays at being happy; her fiance feeds off self pity.

This is what you expect, scenes of emotional devastation. The trauma of adultery has been flogged to death and the weals are crimson in your memory. Why is marriage flawed and girls in distress irresistible? Is sex a healing balm, or an addictive drug? Why do older men behave like weaklings and older women suffer humiliation with stoicism?

Susanne Bier's film may start from a recognisable place, but there is nothing obvious about what follows. In the land of known responses, mystery lies bleeding. Anders Thomas Jensen's script contains layer upon layer of subtlety, so that once you think you understand what Niels is feeling, or why his teenage daughter (Stine Bjerregaard) hates him, or who Cecilie wants, or where Marie can put her anger, you're walking down Dead End Alley in Cliché City.

Made under Dogme rules, a raw honesty infuses the film. Grief and vulnerability, desire and rage interconnect. There are no false moves. Human nature cannot be trusted to be consistent. What belongs here doesn't belong anywhere else. You are conscious of watching open heart surgery, as if for the first time, as the structures of life collapse in slow motion.

The performances range from inspired (Steen) to beautifully judged (Richter). Dogme's restrictions become strengths in the hands of a creative masterbuilder like Jensen, who wrote the screenplay for two previous Dogmes, Mifune and [film]The King Is Alive[/film[.

Never judge a film by its subject matter. Even betrayal can surprise you.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2003
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Open Hearts packshot
A woman falls for the husband of the woman who hospitalised her fiance.
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Director: Susanne Bier

Writer: Anders Thomas Jensen

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

Year: 2002

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark


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