"Open Hearts," Denmark's Oscar entry for foreign film, is as intimate as an autopsy and in a way, it is just that. Only this is a postmodern dissection of a joyous relationship, suddenly staggered by a quick kiss, a moment of negligence and the catastrophic accident that follows.
Director Susanne Bier, a disciple, if not a rigid one, of the stripped-down Dogme 95 school of filmmaking, almost brushes the faces of her actors with her hand-held camera to catch the ragged rhythms of the characters' emotional pulses.
As the story opens, the beguiling Cecilie (Sonja Richter) accepts a marriage proposal from the easygoing Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). The next morning, he steps out of his car and into the path of Marie (Paprika Steen). The accident leaves Joachim paralyzed and Cecilie in despair when he pushes her away. And Marie, though she isn't at fault, blames herself.
Matters are complicated, almost too conveniently, when Marie asks her husband, Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), a doctor involved in Joachim's care, to console Cecilie. Happily married, but not passionately so, Niels falls madly in love with the welcoming 23-year-old. Whether she realizes it or not, Marie may be sacrificing her husband and her happy family to assuage her guilt.
If the actors weren't so intensely focused on their work, the movie's soap opera contrivances would overwhelm such a small, angst-ridden picture. However, like the director, the cast seems to have burrowed into the material, made all the more wrenchingly realistic by such Dogme precepts as low light, ambient sound, hand-held cameras and natural locales. The result is the cinematic equivalent of a gray winter's day.
Open Hearts (114 minutes, in Danish with subtitles at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle) is rated R for sex and language.