Does anyone else suspect that the Dogme 95 Manifesto and its Vow Of Chastity may simply be a bizarre bit of Scandinavian humour that people have taken way too seriously?
Lars Von Trier, its principal architect, has, after all, made but a single film that fits the Dogme requirements: handheld cameras, no costumes, no generic plots, no post-synching of sound, no props. And his post-Idiots film is Dancer In The Dark, a two-and-a-half-hour musical with music composed by its star, pop-culture oddity Björk.
Extremely peculiar The Dogme films have ranged from the extremely peculiar, namely Von Trier's The Idiots, which opens this week, to the flamboyantly artificial. In the first Dogme film to feature Hollywood stars, Kristian Levring's The King Is Alive, which premiered this year at Cannes, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Davison are part of a group of people marooned in the North African desert who decide to mount a production of King Lear.
During Cannes, Lisa Schwarzbaum's Entertainment Weekly column asked, "What can Steven Speilberg learn from Lars Von Trier?," and suggested that every Hollywood director should make one film under the Dogme 95 guidelines. (See the Dogme 95 Manifesto online at http://www. dogme95.dk)
Of course, this is more about morality than aesthetics. The raw realistic methodology of the Dogme films is perceived to be ethically superior to the glamour and illusion of Hollywood filmmaking, a notion that can be reduced to its most absurd level by comparing Harmony Korine's julien donkey-boy, designated Dogme 6 by the Dogme Politbur, with Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan.
Technique is, at a certain level, not really an issue. Technique is what an artist uses to make the work. It is nothing in and of itself. For proof of this, consider the academic paintings churned out by the yard in France in the mid-19th century. There were a lot of mid-70s bands more technically accomplished than the Patti Smith Group, and one could never argue for Bob Dylan's technical superiority over Whitney Houston as a singer.
Von Trier is, in fact, a technical wizard, swinging from the outré fabulism of his early films like Element Of Crime and Europa through the hand-held, Cassavetes-like intensity of Breaking The Waves to the soap-opera-from-hell blankness of his monumental mini-series The Kingdom. He knows as well as anybody that you use the technique you need.
Inner idiot Which brings us to Dogme 2: The Idiots, which is not about actual idiots. There's not a Reform party MP or network programmer in sight. Rather, it's about a group of young Danes who band together and act out idiocy -- getting in touch with their inner idiot, so to speak -- by disrupting polite places like restaurants.
If you're interested in a second-hand version of Laingian psycho-philosophy, I suppose the film has some merit, and the actors are not bad. But based on the contemporary European films I've seen lately, I'd say film schools should start teaching Syd Fields's texts on screenwriting. It would save audiences from a lot of pointless meandering.
Run Lola walk
WINTER SLEEPERS, directed by Tom Tykwer, written by Tykwer and Anne-Françoise Pyszora from her novel An Expense Of Spirit, produced by Stefan Arndt and Maria Köpf, with Ulrich Matthes, Marie-Lou Sellem, Floriane Daniel, Heino Ferch and Josef Bierbichler. 122 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (June 9). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 95. Rating: NNN
The big banner across the poster for Winter Sleepers says, "From the director of Run Lola Run," which is true as far as it goes. Tom Tykwer did co-write and direct Winter Sleepers -- a year before he made Lola. So don't expect Lola's relentless speed and inventiveness.
Scenic possibilities Set in the Bavarian Alps, Winter Sleepers takes full advantage of the scenic possibilities of its setting to tell the parallel stories of two couples and a family with whom their lives intersect. Rene (Heino Ferch) borrows Marko's (Ulrich Matthes) car and gets in a terrible accident -- he walks away but has no memory of it. This leaves Marko trying to get the police to find out who stole his car, and the other party trying to convince people that there was a second car, which is pretty much buried in the snow a few hundred yards down an Alp.
Winter Sleepers is broody and overlong, but in it Tykwer is pushing toward a kind of mannerism. He colour-codes the characters, for one thing: Rebecca (Marie-Lou Sellen), the actress, is always in red from the skin out, Marko always has some blue, and Laura, a nurse, tends toward black. I'm not sure what it means, but it's interesting.
Also interesting is Tykwer's pinball approach to narrative, less a straight line than a series of ricochets. Each character, locked into a tightly moderated vision of the world, impinges on the others, and any one of them may wind up paying off another's karmic debts. It's not the kind of jaw-dropping ride that Run Lola Run is, but an intriguing drama to balance Hollywood's silly season.
DOGME 2: THE IDIOTS, written and directed by Lars Von Trier, produced by Vibeke Windeløv, with Bodil Jørgensen, Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing and Troels Lyby. 117 minutes. A Zentropa Entertainment production. Opens Friday (June 9). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 95. Rating: NN