Loading...

In Vinterberg Veritas 

Breaking new waves

Wednesday, Oct 21 1998
Comments
Early in 1995, Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg got together with a colleague he admired but had never met - Lars von Trier, who was about to make Breaking the Waves. The admiration was mutual: "Come on," said von Trier. "Let's make a commune." He meant this in the French sense of a covenant, and Vinterberg cheerfully obliged. "We sat down," he recalls, "and within 30 minutes drew up the 'Dogma 95 Vow of Chastity.'"

This vow - 10 strict rules, ranging from "Shooting must be done on location" to "The director must not be credited" - is a leeringly arrogant, mischievous bit of makeshift tyranny that has resulted in two astonishing films, both of which premiered at Cannes in 1998. One was von Trier's Idiots, a politically incorrect farce too scarily brilliant to win many awards or friends. (October Films plans to release it next year.) The other was Vinterberg's The Celebration, a witty assault upon all hallowed notions of family life, whose contagious passion won it the Cannes Special Jury Prize.

Related Stories

  • Marry, People 2

    After the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California last summer, people started getting their vows on pretty much right away. See also: Gay Marriage in California: What Happens Next? But California law still contained antiquated language that defined marriage as "a personal relation arising out of...
  • Glove Law Repealed

    Remember six months ago or so when it looked like everyone from your friendly neighborhood barman to your favorite sushi chef was going to remind you more of a surgeon than someone providing hospitality? That's because on Jan. 1, a law went into effect requiring plastic gloves for all hospitality...
  • Californians Like Teachers But Hate Teachers' Lifelong Tenure and Seniority: Poll 2

    If California teachers felt a shadow pass over today, it was the fairly stunning PACE/USC Rossier Poll showing California residents are sick of "last hired, first fired" teacher union rules and oppose the nearly automatic tenure system that makes it all but impossible to fire crappy teachers. Polls show that...
  • Whole Foods Fined for Overcharging California Customers 5

    Just last week we went into Whole Foods for quinoa and came out with one $150 grocery bag of God-knows-what (we think Parmesan crisps, an organic T-shirt and beer made by Franciscan friars was in there). We are used to, but puzzled by, this phenomenon. So we were more than a little...
  • Porn Delegation

    If a bunch of porn stars showed up at your place of work and begged you to do something, we bet you would. A contingent of adult performers visited the office of L.A.-based state Assemblyman Isadore Hall to personally ask him to back off of his bill to make condom...

Both films are startling, technically - both were shot hand-held on video, using available light and portable cameras that would cost about $1,500 to buy locally. But Vinterberg's film arguably cuts closer to the heart of Dogma 95's overriding goal, which is "to force the truth out of my characters and settings." As The Celebration opens in the United States this month, Vinterberg - who is 29 and looks about 21 - takes his Dogma in smiling stride.

"We made the vow with a very great laugh," he says, quick to agree that the rule forbidding personal taste is, "as a rule, impossible. But as an ambition . . .?"

The central character in The Celebration is Christian, a young man called upon to toast his father's 60th birthday at a big family gathering. He complies, but midspeech drops a bombshell. The room falls silent. For an instant, the world seems to stand still - then, just as suddenly, the buzz of chitchat strikes up and the festivities go on as if Christian hadn't said a word.

This intense repressedness is a consistent theme with Vinterberg. Last Round, an Oscar-nominated short feature he made in 1991, centers on a buoyant drinking party thrown in honor of a dying man. "It comes down to hiding," says the director. "In Last Round, we repress the fact that he's going to die. That's why we feel it so much." The same is true in The Celebration. There's been a suicide in the family, and Christian's anti-festive toast spells out the reason. The speedy, hand-held Dogma style, so evocative of home movies, reinforces the sense of immediacy and pressure driving the story.

If he had been making the film in a conventional way, Vinterberg says he would have represented the dead sister as a ghost - he even cast an actress in the part - but special effects don't square with Dogma principles ("You can't do a ghost hand-held," he laughs), and the dead sister appears now for only a fraction of a second, in a dream. But such deliberate limits forced inspirations that Vinterberg is certain could've come no other way. With respect to the dead sister, this meant her presence is suggested only by an intensity in the acting and the cutting - a tension that comes to a dazzling fruition during a sequence when one of her sisters follows a set of playful clues through a hotel room, and finds a suicide note hidden in the chandelier.

"I didn't tell the crew or the actors where the little arrows were, or where the letter was hidden - so they actually had to play the game."

He resorted to this tactic partly out of frustration. Dogma's devotion to existing location and available light radically frees the actor. "There is less waiting, all attention is on them, they no longer have to walk on marks. After the first week, they were so free that they became insecure. They wanted limits. It's like when you play cowboys and Indians as a kid. You do it full-hearted, but you have to have a set of rules if the playing is to be any good. As long as you have a set of rules, you can forget about everything else. You know where to go, when to hide, when to shoot."

The result is enough to make one reach for a Handycam and take a Californian vow of chastity. Dogma West, anyone? "Do it! We're looking for Dogma colleagues. People seem to have the idea that it's some kind of elite project, but it's meant as the opposite." Everybody is welcome, Vinterberg stresses, from anonymous beginners to acknowledged masters. "Lars von Trier isn't humble. He invited Kurosawa, before he died, to join Dogma. Bergman, too, and Coppola and Scorsese. I asked Scorsese as well, in Cannes. I don't think he'll sign up, but he liked the project. Our humble ambition is to make a wave out of it. Four Danish directors are not enough."

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 9
  2. Thu 10
  3. Fri 11
  4. Sat 12
  5. Sun 13
  6. Mon 14
  7. Tue 15

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • 10 Movies You Should See This Summer
    The phrase "summer movies" will never not mean broad, action-driven crowd-pleasers to me: I counted the days until Batman (June 23, 1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (July 3, 1991), and Jurassic Park (June 11, 1993) were released. For every Dark Knight there are 10 Prometheuses — and that's just among the films that are actually trying to be good — but the hype and anticipation of summer movies remains a fun spectator sport. (More fun than sports, anyway.) Here, 10 from Memorial Day weekend and after for which I have, as the song says, high hopes. By Chris Klimek
  • Doc Docs: 8 Powerful Medical Documentaries
    Code Black is the latest in a string of powerful documentaries examining the domestic health care system's flaws and profiling its physicians, caretakers and patients. In this film -- which will be released in select theaters on June 20 -- the cameras are pointed at the nation's busiest emergency room, that of L.A. County Hospital. Here are seven moving medical docs. Click on the film name to read the full review.

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel in Lego
    A Lego replica of The Grand Budapest Hotel was unveiled this past Saturday, June 14, by builder Ryan Ziegelbauer and star of the film Tony Revolori at The Grove in L.A. Ziegelbaur and his team built the 7-foot, 150-pound structure from over 50,000 Lego bricks. The celebration was held in honor of the Blu-Ray and DVD release of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel on June 17th by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. All photos by Mary Bove.

Movie Trailers

View all movie trailers >>

Now Trending