With an almost American obsession with the tension between safety and destruction, Danish director Susanne Bier brings a thriller-like structure to her domestic dramas like Brothers, Open Hearts and After the Wedding. I say American because the films center on nuclear family appearing to have a “perfect” suburban life cruelly interrupted by an unstable, violent world.

In After the Wedding and Brothers, this outside world centers on poor, beleaguered countries (India, Afghanistan). Driven by conscience, the men in Bier’s stories attempt to “do good” in these foreign lands – maybe to assuage some liberal guilt around having so much.

Unlike the U.S., Denmark, a small country, depends on the kindness of surrounding countries for peace and prosperity. Like the U.S., the entirety of the Western World, once smug, now finds itself increasingly pulled into Third World conflict. Some of this is chosen (Iraq), and other occurrences feel out of our control (9/11).

The parallels between Denmark and America become clear when our comfortable lives fall under siege. Bier uses these external forces as a metaphor for the secrets and dangers inherent in relationships.

In both pictures, cozy domesticity becomes more and more tenuous as the outside world forces its way in.

After the Wedding does an excellent job of portraying the conflicts of having everything in this unstable universe. Jacob (Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen), restless and perhaps trapped by his suitable Danish life, ends up in India working with impoverished orphans.

The irony of the situation slowly unfolds as it becomes clear that Jacob’s life in India keeps him trapped, in another sense, as a whole other life exists for him in Europe. Torn between both worlds, Jacob must choose between the lesser of two transgressions as he is increasingly split in two, unable to look away from his responsibilities both micro and macro.

Bier works magic with a relatively small story by letting the surprises unfold one by one – keeping up the perfect amount of tension. The characters struggle with their situation and as an audience, we struggle with them.

The lure of the cocoon contrasts perfectly with the allure of adventure. Mikkelsen does an excellent job, expertly showing us the anguish involved in both choices.

Grade: A

After the Wedding is currently available.