Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sonja Richter, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Paprika Steen
Written by: Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen
Directed by: Susanne Bier
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexuality
Language: Danish with English subtitles
Running Time: 113
Date: 08/23/2002

Open Hearts (2003)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Hearts' of Bold

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Open Hearts on Import DVD (Region 2, PAL)

After last year's delightful Italian for Beginners, the Dogme 95 films return to the more depressing subject matter that they're known for.

But this time, director Susanne Bier and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (Mifune, The King Is Alive) draw attention away from the famous Dogme gimmick -- its manifesto and its 10 rules (see -- and pull us into a surprisingly powerful emotional snafu.

As the story begins, Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Cecilie (Sonja Richter) celebrate their wedding engagement over a few drinks. Unfortunately, their bliss is not to last -- a car suddenly comes along and strikes Joachim, paralyzing him from the neck down.

The driver of the car was Marie (Paprika Steen), whose husband, Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), happens to be a doctor at the hospital where Joachim has checked in. The distraught Cecilie spends time talking with the sympathetic doc, going so far as to call him at home, asking him to come over and "hold her." The two eventually form a passionate relationship, taking joy and ease in each other that the outside world does not provide.

But the filmmakers won't let the new couple -- or us -- off easy. They continue to spend time with Marie, who is far too crafty to let Niels' secret meetings fool her.

We also return to Joachim in the hospital, depressed and irate over his condition, relentlessly insulting the nurses and chasing Cecilie away time and again. The movie makes us wonder whether Ceceilie might be doing the right thing by moving on.

Even the movie's ending manages to follow the organic feelings and behavior of the characters, rather than a pre-planned three-act structure designed to bring everyone home to happiness and good times.

It all sounds a bit like a soap opera, like the rich, well-told "women's tales" that John Stahl and Douglas Sirk used to tell -- minus the lush colors and 1950s repression, ala Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven, and in favor of claustrophobic close-ups and hand-held digital camerawork.

As a whole, the Dogme films can smack of trendiness and sensationalism -- Lars von Trier's The Idiots in particular is nearly intolerable -- but the "rules" do set up a nice challenge for truly devoted filmmakers, forcing them to concentrate on the real reasons for making a film. And sometimes, we win.

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