When four Danish directors got drunk together one night in 1995 and came up with a movement to clear all the artifice and crap out of film, I seriously doubt they harbored any illusions of it catching on. However, when the first of the movies under the “Dogme 95” banner was released, Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Celebration,” a lot of people took notice. One of them was aspiring filmmaker Henry Barrial. What he seemed to take away from the viewing experience was the possibility of making a meaningful film without a large crew or a lot of money and equipment. The result is “Some Body.”
The story seems simple enough. Samantha (Stephanie Bennett) is a Los Angeles schoolteacher in her late 20s. After a party, she faces the fact that her long-term live-in relationship with Anthony (Jeramy Guillory) has grown stale. She soon moves out on her own in search of love and happiness. What she generally finds tends to be something else entirely.
Now, while Barrial violates at least three of the ten conditions of Dogme 95 (there’s a score, minor opticals, and a director’s credit), he’s definitely lived up to the spirit of the thing. Thankfully, he also seems to have come away from “The Celebration” with a lot of ideas about creating his film in a far more organic and natural manner than is normally done. “Some Body” is largely the effort of three people: Director and co-writer Barrial, star and co-writer Bennett, and cinematographer/composer/editor Geoffrey Pepos. All three produced, and in some scenes both Pepos and Barrial operated the digital camera simultaneously. Barrial and Bennett derived the story from events in Bennett’s own life. Throughout production, the group alternated periods of writing and shooting to allow the project to develop a bit on its own.
The final product is fantastic and often brutal. At times I feared that it was veering awfully close to “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” territory, which would also blow another Dogme 95 clause, but it never did. What could have been the most boring, unwatchable crawl-up-your-own-a*****e picture instead becomes a gripping, searing portrait of a lost soul trying to find her way through life. Stephanie Bennett is amazing. She is always true, and often as naked emotionally as she is physically. This is the kind of acting that is hardest to do, where there is almost no distance between you and the character. There would appear to be little for her to hide behind. Samantha is depicted as a deeply flawed human being, but a very real one, and in the end a very sympathetic one. The film never gives her any easy outs, and in real life, this kind of journey is never really over until you’re dead.
“Some Body” was one of the true highlights of the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Barrial and Bennett demonstrate that in the new millennium, great new talent continues to crawl out of the woodwork. It’s difficult to determine how the second century of cinema will play out, but so far so good.