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'Open Hearts' avoids formulas and sticks with riveting reality

| Friday, May 9, 2003

A nearly fatal auto accident in "Open Hearts" crushes Joachim's neck and back and leaves him a quadriplegic.

The athletic Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) had just given his fiance Cecilie (Sonja Richter) an engagement ring in their apartment.

Shortly afterward, stepping out of his car, he is run over by Marie (Paprika Steen), who had accelerated during an argument with teenage daughter Stine (Stine Bjerregaard).

Joachim is taken to the hospital where Marie's husband Niels (Mads Mikkelsen) is a doctor. Besides Stine, they have sons 10 and 8.

There's so much guilt and concern in the Danish movie.

So much that Niels takes it upon himself to talk with the anxious Cecilie in a hospital waiting room.

Although no less honest, he's less direct than the doctor who tells Joachim and Cecilie straight out: "There isn't even a theoretical chance" the patient will recover.

The rage and frustration that well up in Joachim prompt him to lash out at Cecilie, whose loyalty irritates more than it soothes. He insists she back off permanently. And that's only where "Open Hearts" begins.

Because the many developments in the movie are organic -- a natural byproduct of the people, the relationships and the central situation, nothing feels melodramatic or arbitrary even though we can imagine how it would come to appear so in a glossy, big-budget remake.

Unlike about 80 percent of the pictures made for mass consumption in multiplexes, "Open Hearts" flows in a lifelike manner.

By avoiding formulas, it confounds expectations. And yet by allowing each action to lead to its logical consequence, we keep nodding with affirmation as we recognize inevitability right alongside unpredictability.

The lies, the anger, the people caught between what they know is right and what they feel entitled to do. It's hard to believe the screenwriter, Anders Thomas Jensen, is in his late 20s, given the grasp he seems to have of interpersonal dynamics.

The ensemble, under the direction of Susanne Bier, could fit comfortably into an old Ingmar Bergman drama.

That's especially true of Steen as a mature and dedicated wife and mother who confronts cascading situations as though she were in a nightmare from which she cannot awaken.

Although there's a small amount of unsteady cinematography, there's less here than for any previous Dogme 95, or Dogma, movie -- a canon that includes "Character" and "The King Is Alive."

Dogma filmmakers work by a no-frills doctrine whereby they use strictly ambient lighting and background noise, clothes from their own closets and whatnot.

Although the film stock in "Open Hearts" tends toward the grainy, it's by far the smoothest, least distracting and most satisfying work from Dogma to date. And it never stops begging the question: How do you handle it•

Additional Information:

Movie Details

'Open Hearts'

Director: Susanne Bier.

Stars: Sonja Richter, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas.

MPAA rating: R, for language and sexuality.

Now Playing: Harris, Downtown.

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