If I were to just describe the plot of "After the Wedding," you might well consider it pure melodrama, and contrived melodrama at that. Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, the banker...

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If I were to just describe the plot of “After the Wedding,” you might well consider it pure melodrama, and contrived melodrama at that. Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen, the banker villain in “Casino Royale”) works at an orphanage in India but is summoned to his native Denmark to meet a wealthy businessman, Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), who has offered a generous donation. While there, on a seemingly casual invitation, he attends the wedding of Jørgen’s daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen) — and discovers that he, not Jørgen, is Anna’s biological father, thanks to a long-ago liaison with Jørgen’s wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen). From here, the plot continues to spin: a marriage is threatened, a fatal illness revealed, familial threads ripped in emotional scene after scene.

Movie review 3.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

“After the Wedding,” with Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen, Christian Tafdrup. Directed by Susanne Bier, from a screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen.

119 minutes. Rated R for some language and a scene of sexuality. In Danish with English subtitles. Egyptian.

Yet, this film is in the capable hands of Susanne Bier (“Open Hearts,” “Brothers”), a Danish filmmaker with a remarkable gift for clarity and truth and an ability to bring out those qualities in her actors (who are photographed at mercilessly close range and who never sound a false note). “After the Wedding,” like her previous films, is the story of good people caught in a difficult situation. Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen don’t take sides as Jacob and Jørgen face off, and Helene and Anna face the changes in their relationship brought about by a long secret suddenly revealed.

Bier’s careful touch and the skill of the cast make “After the Wedding” an emotional and often lovely film. It’s mostly a series of two-person scenes, delicately filled in with character details: Jørgen, a endearing bear of a man, dances lumberingly but joyfully at the wedding; Anna smiles, nervously yet hopefully, upon first meeting Jacob; Jacob, hesitantly, strokes his newfound daughter’s hair; Helene’s eyes flash as she instinctually tries to shield her child from pain.

Bier will make her English-language directing debut this fall with “Things We Lost in the Fire”; remember her name.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com