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Open hearts (Elsker dig for evigt)

Threat advisory: Guarded - General risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

A young couple is looking forward to their wedding when an accident befalls them. You think your biggest problem today is going to get the shopping done and suddenly your fiancé gets run over, it's like a blade into your life, for better and for worse. The "worse" is the event as it takes place; the "better" is what happens afterwards...

Persons of interest

  • Sonja Richter .... Cæcilie
  • Mads Mikkelsen .... Niels
  • Paprika Steen .... Marie
  • Nikolaj Lie Kaas .... Joachim
  • Stine Bjerregaard .... Stine
  • Birthe Neumann .... Hanne
  • Niels Olsen .... Finn
  • Ulf Pilgaard .... Thomsen
  • Ronnie Hiort Lorenzen .... Gustav
  • Pelle Bang Sørensen .... Emil
  • Anders Nyborg .... Robert
  • Ida Dwinger .... Sanne
  • Philip Zandén .... Tommy
  • Anders Thomas Jensen .... Screenwriter
  • Susanne Bier .... Screenwriter
  • Susanne Bier .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

  • Awards and film festivals:
  • Open hearts (Elsker dig for evigt) QuickTime movie trailers
  • NB: Danish language dialogue with English language subtitles
  • Studios and distributors:

Intelligence analyst

Agent Provocateur Alexander Feld

Theatrical report

Susanne Bier's Open hearts is the 28th film to be granted "Dogme" certification.

Dogme, for those unfamiliar, is an actual manifesto as to what a film should be, or, better yet, what cannot be used in composing it. Requirements include locations as opposed to staged sets, natural lighting, hand held cameras, no optical work, no music, no superficial action, no genre and no director's signature.

This premise has potential, but examine the criteria. The Director is weakened, the individual auteur is trashed. This is not so much Film as filming. Certainly Hollywood, Bollywood and the like churn out over-produced, over-directed, over-budget films, many of them mediocre to crap, and this is clearly what "Dogme" is railing against. However, it does not take a philosopher to grasp that the opposite, barely-directed, under-produced, low-budget films can be just as mediocre and that is exactly what Open hearts is.

A premise that preoccupies this pic is that in the blink of an eye a singular incident can mutate one life and radically alter surrounding ones. (In terms of originality, this concept goes back to the silent era.) This nanosecond involves the opening of a car door.

Twenty-something chef Cæcilie (Sonja Richter) drops off her swaggering fiancé Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) to go for, appropriately, a rock-climbing expedition. He is smashed head on by a speeding vehicle as he gets out of her car. The hysterical driver Marie (the superb Paprika Steen) has been chauffeuring her morose Generation Z daughter Stine (Stine Bjerregaard) and now madly tries to help. She telephones her husband, Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), a doctor who works at the hospital where Joachim will be taken.

Joachim survives, but the accident will leave him a prisoner in his own body for what remains of his life. In the difficult, soap opera-esque role of a patient, Kaas is terrific. As his rage at his personal fate mounts, he becomes both malicious and pitiful and distressingly sympathetic. His gradual progression to a resigned, seemingly content invalid is the film's strongest emotional journey. The director has unfortunately chosen not to unpack the ideas of life and its worth (remember the wonderful 1981 Whose life is it, anyway?) but there is enough discussion of the victim and unscathed partner relationship to chew on.

But Open hearts is no hospital drama. When the beleaguered Cæcilie, rejected and dejected by Joachim, reaches out to handsome doctor Niels for help, he responds with the benediction of the guilt-wracked Marie. Cæcilie is half Marie's age and her need for love sparks a fire in Niels. Almost overnight a happy and monogamous marriage, replete with three kids, begins to unravel. Get the nanosecond thing?

Sonja Richter plays Cæcilie with innocence and sincerity; we grasp that her world fell apart as quickly as did her fiancé's. Her waif-like look, somewhere between an adult Lolita and Stevie Nicks, conveys emotional honesty. Mads Mikkelsen puts across a middle-aged man both falling in love and emotionally unravelling appropriately. (His Niels may wish to consider a shave - I pitied poor Alicia's milky white flesh against his Miami Vice-era stubble.) But it is the accomplished Paprika Steen who steals the show. An accomplished writer and director in addition to being an actress of exceptional range, she is the only performer in this flick who can jump out of the screen. The director may shove her Dogme-atic camera all around the set but Steen leaps into focus when the lens approaches. She conveys through glance and gesture more than the rest of the cast does with page after page of an extremely verbose script, easily communicating Marie's enormous guilt and that her understanding of unconditional love and commitment varies profoundly from the others.

One fully grasps the Dogme mantra of lights and camera but watching two hours of jarring lighting, grainy textures and epileptic camera work - replete with constant nasal hair close-ups and invading upward pans - renders this a celluloid jumble. There is an interesting use of video for a dream sequence; this is spoiled by sentimental music, glaring in an almost tone-less film.

It is wickedly ironic to consider that Dogme is categorically opposed to directorial excess and metaphor and, of course, institutionalised cinema. Well... if this pic, with its somewhat thin storyline stretched to unnecessary opera, had been studio-born, its timing alone would be considered a benchmark in directorial self-indulgence. And no thinking producer would allow Ms Bier's nadir, the presentation of an apple, perhaps the weakest moment in professional cinema I have seen in this millennium, to survive the cutting room.

Dogme, its films and its Manifesto, is indeed worth consideration. The founders speak, albeit sanctimoniously, of purifying film, "naked cinema", and returning to a lost innocence. These are worthy if illogical goals. It will indeed have some impact; in the age of digital video just about anyone can be a filmmaker. (What a fright that is!) Meadow Soprano is a fan. And no doubt arty American unis already offer Dogme PhD courses.

When I spotted the Dogme certification in the opening credits, I could have reached for a revolver. Now, after seeing it and now reliving it, I think I'll reach for the DVD of a good Fellini.

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (Medium level sex scene, medium level coarse language)

Surveillance time

114 minutes (1:54 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 15 May 2003

Cinema surveillance images

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