Open Hearts (2002)

“We were just unlucky.”

In the Danish film Open Hearts Cecilie (Sonja Richter) is engaged to Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kass). Their plans for a life together are shattered when Joachim is paralyzed in an accident. At the news that he’s a quadriplegic, Joachim rejects Cecilie, and in her grief, pain and confusion, she turns to Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), the husband of Marie (Paprika Steen)–the woman responsible for the accident. This is a tale of adultery with the twist and complications of Joachim’s accident, but Open Hearts is also a superior tale that explores the complexity of motivations within human relationships.

While Joachim is under professional care of doctors, nurses, and therapists in the hospital, the other people involved in the situation–Cecilie, Niels, and Marie–are on their own. And they all collectively fail to realize that they are also reacting to stress and guilt in the aftermath of the accident. In many ways, for its focus on relationships, Open Hearts is reminiscent of Closer, but it lacks the nastiness.

Open Hearts is a Dogme 95 film–and so it sticks to realism. I am not an unconditional fan of Dogme films, but Open Hearts is a phenomenal example. With hand-held camera shots, and loads of close-ups, the meltdown of four lives is recorded with heart-wrenching realism and accuracy. When the film begins, Niels is depicted as a laissez-faire dad who would rather treat his three children with off-handed generosity than confront them with stern parenting. This detachment melts down in one scene in a supermarket which would be hilarious if didn’t bear such serious consequences, and Neils’ teenage daughter Stine (Stine Bjerregaard) immediately smells a rat when her dad’s parenting style disintegrates with his distracting torrid affair. The script offers complex characters whose actions are open to several different interpretations at each phase of the game. Open Hearts captures all the moods of its characters–despair, anguish, grief, euphoria and also numbness. Directed by Susanne Bier, this excellent, fascinating film is in Danish with English subtitles.

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