Poignant, thoughtful and utterly absorbing, Susanne Bier’s Dogme film “Open Hearts” is a gem. Pic’s look at the strange ways love sometimes enters people’s lives is both realistic and truly human. Already a box office success in Denmark, pic’s exposure on the festival circuit should guarantee it a long and healthy life at arthouses around the world.
Cecilie (Sonja Richter) and Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) live together in Copenhagen and are very much in love. He asks her to marry him, but soon afterward is hit by a car and severely injured. The car was driven by Marie (Paprika Steen), whose teenage daughter, Stine (Stine Bjerregaard), was in the vehicle at the time.
Paralyzed from the neck down, Joachim tells the grief-stricken Cecilie to leave him. She talks to the doctor, Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), still not realizing that he is the husband of Marie, the woman who was driving the car. Marie feels increasingly guilty about what happened and asks her husband to talk to and comfort the lonely young Cecilie.
Joachim grows more and more hostile toward his fiancee. And when Cecilie calls Niels, and he comes over to comfort her, it’s clear they are both developing strong feelings for each other. Later, when she asks Niels to “come and hold me,” he lies to his family and goes to her apartment, where the two become lovers in a very erotic scene.
Though the script sounds like soap opera, in the hands of Bier and her accomplished cast “Open Hearts” becomes a true, sometimes painful look at emotional dynamics. People fall in love when they least expect it and, for Cecilie and Niels, who till now have been in happy relationships, a chance meeting, caused by a tragedy, has life-altering effects.
Bier, whose earlier films included the excellent comedy “The One and Only” and the underrated “Once in a Lifetime,” shows emotional and dramatic depth with her new film. Thesps are also top drawer: Kaas is poignant as the paralyzed Nicholas, Steen is as good as ever as the betrayed Marie, and Mikkelsen shows his soft side in a convincing way. Richter, an accomplished legit actress making her feature debut with “Open Hearts,” is a real find, and the love scenes between her and Mikkelsen are genuinely sensual.
“Open Hearts” is officially a Dogme film — using, for example, only existing light — but it sometimes strays from the rules. For starters, there’s specially composed music playing over edits, and a costume designer and make up-artist are both credited. Still, overall, the simplicity of the story is enhanced by the Dogme approach, making it one of the best in this format.