A review of “Open Hearts” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating:  R for nudity, sexuality, and adult situations. In Danish with English subtitles.

Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes



Life’s projected momentum can be cut short by a single stroke of fate. That’s the capricious message behind Susanne Bier’s poignant “Open Hearts”, the latest in a proud succession of Dogme manifesto-inspired films to be imported from Denmark.

Cecilie (Sonja Richter) and Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) seem destined for happiness.  She’s an aspiring chef at a fashionable eatery; he is her passionate athlete of a lover. The night before Joachim is scheduled to leave for a risky mountain-climbing expedition, he proposes. 

Fate intervenes with a vengeance.  As Cecilie is dropping Joachim at his pre-arranged meeting place, a speeding car barrels into him, leaving him lying unconscious in a growing pool of blood.  The prognosis is devastating: Joachim will live, but his spine has been shattered and he will spend the rest of his life as a quadriplegic.

Coincidence opens the door to conflict.  The driver (Paprika Steen as Marie) who collided with Joachim is also the wife of Joachim’s doctor (Mads Mikkelsen as Niels).  Marie suffers extreme guilt over the dreadful timing of the argument she was engaged in with her teenage daughter at the moment of impact, and pleads with her husband to comfort the distraught Cecilie.  Joachim’s deep depression and his refusal to acknowledge Cecilie’s melancholy adds to the group’s collective misery.   

Skilled caregiver Niels takes his wife’s request to heart, endeavoring to console Cecilie in her time of need.  Professional concern becomes solace that segues into passion. Niels reveals a startling desire to become more than Cecilie’s friend, at the same time that Joachim emerges from his self-imposed pity party.

The Dogme films (handheld cameras, ambient sound and lighting) cultivate shoestring-budget auras that can overpower their narratives with heightened spontaneity.  Conversely, film romances are traditionally drenched in mood lighting and a crescendo of bittersweet violins. “Open Hearts” is simply deliciously top-heavy with pain, bitterness, release, and fervor --- and pregnant with unabashed authenticity.

This staggering smorgasbord of emotions is sustained by one of my favorite film themes, the “one-second principle”. How abruptly and unexpectedly life can change in a lonesome split second! (“Run Lola Run”, “Next Stop Wonderland”, “Sliding Doors”, etc.)  A thoroughly refreshing spin on the classic love triangle.