In a reality where people seeking life advice can find advice columns, confessional blog posts and vlogs, and then be pleasantly surprised that they aren’t alone in their confusion, misery, or helplessness, maybe the number of original fictional stories is quite small. Between literature, films, and even songs that inspire other forms of art to official remakes, it shouldn’t come as a shock that different people can have the same struggles. Whereas a retelling pair such as Sabrina (1954, 1995) leaves an unfulfilling taste in the mouth, the remake exercise in After the Wedding is successful.
Although I admire the talent and have liked many of the films that Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, and Julianne Moore have been in over the years, because I had seen and loved the original first, I was reluctant to see the remake — thirteen years is not a long time to make a film again (especially one that wasn’t a disaster and starred Mads Mikkelsen). I decided to give the American version a try because I really, really wanted to buy a DVD when I was at Barnes and Noble over the weekend.
The storyline of both films is nearly identical: in order to secure funding, the manager of an orphanage in India must fly to the headquarters of a company willing to donate a considerable sum of money. Professional and personal boundaries mix awkwardly as the manager and the donor discover they are much closer than they could have imagined. The manager and donor are male characters in Bier’s film (played respectively by Mads Mikkelsen and Rolf Lassgard); they are female characters in Freundlich’s film (portrayed respectively by Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore). The donor’s spouse (a wife [Sidse Babett Knudsen] in the original and a husband [Billy Crudup] in the remake) and a daughter constitute the details behind some of the secrets that surface — the film’s title refers to what happens after the daughter gets married.
The bones and breath of both films are essentially mirror images of each other. The blood and muscle differ in nuanced ways that offer complementary perspectives on how certain decisions made by a mother and a father can impact the other people in their lives. If there are seminars in film school on how to do a remake and not mess it up, both After the Weddings should be included in the curriculum.
An unexpected observation I made while watching the American version and re-watching the Danish one is that both Julianne Moore and Mads Mikkelsen are flawless in making me believe that they are whatever occupation their character has. Moore has been among many things a housewife, a pornstar, a high school teacher, a forensic psychiatrist, a gynecologist, a linguistics professor, and a media mogul in After the Wedding. Mikkelsen has been among many things a butcher, a husband, a drug pusher, one of King Arthur’s men, a Bond villain, Igor Stravinsky, a psychologist with an exotic palette, and the manager of an orphanage in After the Wedding. I would believe either of them in any job, which to me is part of good acting. It’s not just about exhibiting the character’s body language or saying the lines well — it’s about envisioning the actor being or doing what this character is and does everyday.