Another week, another film about pedophilia. Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg reveals us the tale of Helge Klingenfeldt, the patriarch and owner of a resort in the country. On his 60th birthday, a celebration is to take place, gathering all of the family including Helge’s wayward children. His daughter’s ghost, who killed herself in the hotel two months before, presides over the event as her surviving twin brother prepares to reveal the family’s darkest secrets. Hilarity ensues.
Now this may sound like just another foreign art film. As such, it’s a pretty damn good one. The hook here is in the director’s approach to the material. Vinterberg, along with director Lars Von Trier (“The Kingdom”, “Breaking the Waves”) and two other Danish filmmakers sat down in 1995 to form a movement called, “Dogma ’95”. The purpose was, “a rescue operation to counter certain tendencies in film today. Dogma 95 opposes the auteur concept, make-up illusions and dramaturgical predictability. Dogma 95 desires to purge film so that once again the inner lives of the characters justify the plot.” In addition, Vinterberg and Von Trier wrote the movement’s “Vow of Chastity”, a set of rules to guide a director away from convention and artistic hubris. To subscribe to Dogma ’95 a person agrees to the following:
[ DOGMA ’95: THE VOW OF CHASTITY ] I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by Dogma 95: ^ 1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. (If a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found.) ^ 2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.) ^ 3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the shooting must take place where the film takes place.) ^ 4. The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure, the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera.) ^ 5. Optical work and filters are forbidden. ^ 6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc., must not occur.) ^ 7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.) ^ 8. Genre movies are not acceptable. ^ 9. The film format must be Academy 35mm. ^ 10. The director must not be credited.
Furthermore, I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a “work,” as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any æsthetic considerations.
Thus I make my [ VOW OF CHASTITY ]
Now on first glance, this looks like the most pretentious bunch of horses**t imaginable. It’s definitely not meant that way, though many critics seem to take it that way. While it’s nearly impossible to stick to all 10 (and for most egos to keep to #10), the “rules” are just guidelines to make directors THINK.
In essence, the vow is to prevent movies from turning into theme park rides or wallow in the filmmaker’s ego. You shouldn’t always resort to spectacle, or shock effect in place of good and believable storytelling. Neither “Breaking the Waves” or “The Celebration” completely adhere to all of the above statements, but we believe in the events as they are take place.
Let’s take some big American produced film, say, “Batman and Robin”. How does it fair? Running it through a sort of “Dogma Purity Scale”, the flick is pretty much choking on its own vomit with a score of 0. Perhaps Joel Schumacher can be cured in our lifetime. Dogma ’95 is your mom slapping him in the back of the head to get out of the disco and stop putting nipples on all the costumes. I don’t see Bruce Jenner and this ain’t “Can’t Stop the Music”.
“The Celebration” only gets about a 7 on the purity scale, but the effect is there. We have a haunting, unpredictable film. I dig the special effects extravaganzas as much as anyone, but is the new “Star Wars” prequel going to work unless we believe in the characters and the crises they face? If you let the marketing department into development all you end up with is a bunch of muppets. In the end, “The Celebration” will stay with me much longer than “The Avengers” will. At least I hope.