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Not-So-Great Dane

"After the Wedding" is a soap opera that almost won an Oscar.

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Sometimes things are just plain sketchy in the state of Denmark. At least they seem that way after you watch "After the Wedding," the country's 2006 competitor for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The movie is a confusing mix of naturalist staging and soap-opera melodrama. You may leave it in tears of sadness or frustration. But a question more troublesome than Hamlet's existentialist doubt will hang over your head: Could a movie in which people dance at a wedding to "It's Raining Men" seriously be the best a country has to offer?

The movie follows Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), who left his Danish homeland to become a social worker in India, handing out free curry and running a school for orphans. Soon he is forced to return to his homeland, where a demanding billionaire hotel tycoon (Rolf Lassgard) is looking to splurge on a charity and wants to meet him in person. The billionaire, Jorgen, invites Jacob to his daughter's wedding, where Jacob learns that the daughter (Stine Fischer Christensen), now 20, is really his. Jorgen's wife (Sidse Babett Knudsen) was once his, too. This is the point on which the movie spins out of control: Jorgen wants to make his wife and daughter Jacob's once again.

There are a few really excellent moments in "After the Wedding," and they may be telling. Almost all of them are jokes the characters make at the expense of Americans. Anyone who looked askew at Lars von Trier's breakout American success, "Dancer in the Dark," be warned: "After the Wedding" smacks of another joke on those gullible enough to believe in it. The rest of the movie is a soap opera mined with unintentional emotional cues and faulty logic. Are we really supposed to believe that anyone, let alone a cagey self-made man, would reunite a former drunk womanizer with his family, sight unseen, in the hopes that he'll look after them when he's away?

It's as if director Susanne Bier, taking her cue from other former Dogma 95 purists, was offended or enticed enough by Hollywood's love of a sob story to see how much she could get away with. Is that paranoia? See how you feel after the climactic scene in which a character reveals he doesn't want to die by screaming, "I don't want to die!" The same feelings may well up in you after they play "It's Raining Men" for the second time. (R) 120 min. S

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