Film review: Open Hearts

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 20 2004 2:02 p.m. MST

Given its central story line — which could have come straight from an American soap opera — "Open Hearts" should be painfully obvious, right?

Wrong. Though some of the plot of this Danish drama is a tad predictable — and at least some of its content is sure to rub a few audience members the wrong way — the film doesn't come to any easy conclusions. It also seems refreshingly honest, and even a bit touching, especially in comparison to the manipulative dramas Hollywood keeps churning out.

Part of that honest feel may have to do with the film's Dogme '95 origins. That cinematic movement was started by northern European filmmakers who vowed not to use special effects and to use only naturalistic lighting and camera work.

One of the hearts referred to in the title "Open Hearts" belongs to Cecilie (Sonja Richter), a twentysomething chef whose life is thrown into turmoil in an instant. She and her boyfriend Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) have decided to get married. Unfortunately, he is run down by a car — right in front of Cecile — and suffers terrible injuries.

Though Joachim is lucky enough to survive, his spine has been crushed and he can no longer move his arms and legs. Embittered, Joachim suddenly tells his fiancee that he wants nothing to do with her.

That forces Cecilie into the arms of Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), a middle-aged doctor working at the hospital. But there's one huge complication — he's married to Marie (Paprika Steen), who just happens to be the driver who ran over Joachim. Worse, they have three children, including Stine (Stine Bjerregaard), an insolent teen who becomes suspicious about where her father is spending his evenings. And with whom.

The gimmick-free filmmaking puts the emphasis on the performances. Richter is superb as Cecilie, making her character's confusion and loneliness all too believable. As for Mikkelsen, he may not be a matinee idol, but he's very convincing. And in a supporting role, Steen makes her character so memorable, so vivid, that you almost wish the film was about her.

"Open Hearts" is rated R for occasional use of strong sex-related profanity and crude sexual talk, simulated sex, male and female nudity, brief gore and a brief scene of violence (a vehicular-pedestrian accident). Running time: 113 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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