Open Hearts (2002)
Director: Susanne Bier
Cast: Sonja Richter, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mads Mikkelsen
Synopsis: A Dogme film about an engaged couple that is torn apart after the man is paralyzed in an accident, and the woman falls in love with the husband of the woman who caused the accident.
My first experience (back in 2005) of a Dogme film — a concept of which I admittedly have only the sketchiest of knowledge but which, at first glance, seems to be a self-restricting set of draconian rules designed to fly in the face of accepted film-making techniques — Open Heart is a remarkably affecting film that is actually enhanced by the rules under which it operates.
Sonia Richter plays Cecilie, girlfriend of Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who is paralysed from the neck down after being run down by Marie (Paprika Steen), wife of Neils (Mads Mikkelsen), a doctor at the hospital in which Joachim recuperates. Cecilie and Neils strike up a relationship that develops into an affair.
Open Hearts is a measured, introspective study of the impact a sudden, shocking moment can have on not just the participants but on those around them, and is aided immeasurably by natural performances from all the characters, which provides added depth and resonance to the story. There are no villains here, just normal people struggling to cope with their emotions and their lives in the wake of Joachim’s devastating accident, and there are no melodramatics in a plot that, handled less skilfully, could easily have descended into the realms of overwrought soap opera. The use of natural lighting and hand-held cameras adds to the sense of realism, giving the film an effective fly-on-the-wall documentary look. These simple techniques help draw you into the lives of the characters and to want a happy outcome for them all even though you know that can never be. In fact there is no real conclusion to this film in the conventional sense, simply a momentary calm in the turmoil, at which point writers Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen choose to leave their characters to continue their lives unwatched by the camera.
Open Hearts is wonderful stuff — an intelligent, perceptive and thoughtful film that deserves a wider audience than it will ever receive. Don’t let this one pass you by.