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Stray Dogma 

Danish director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen

Wednesday, Feb 23 2000
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”We were not supposed to be credited as directors. But then these two assholes entered the competition in Cannes and were on the front cover of every press outlet in tuxedoes.“ Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, the director of Mifune, the third official release from the manifesto-driven Danish film collective Dogma 95, sounds as if he’s firing warning shots across the bow at his more famous brethren -- Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) and Lars von Trier (The Idiots), directors of Dogma 1 and 2 respectively. In fact, Kragh-Jacobsen is merely assuming an ironic distance: He is 53 years old to von Trier‘s 43 and Vinterberg’s 30, and was their onetime mentor in film school. Moreover, he arrives at their drive-by ideology with a dozen films of his own under his belt -- enough time in the trenches to take the long view when it comes to the scorched-earth philosophy favored by zealots of any stripe. (His The Island on Bird Street, a children‘s movie that aired on U.S. television last year, won three daytime Emmys.)

Whether because of its director’s age, experience or backhanded contentiousness, Mifune is easily the most accessible of the Dogma films -- not to mention arguably the funniest. The story of a newly married corporate climber suddenly called home to care for his mentally challenged brother, and of the reformed prostitute he inadvertently hires as a caretaker, it could be pitched as Rain Man Meets Pretty Woman without doing the premise undue violence. And the title, taken from the lead character‘s blinkered impression of Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai, could just as easily have been changed to Belushi and still capture the same anarchic spirit.

In retrospect, this may be Dogma’s darkest secret: Despite a 10-rule ”Vow of Chastity“ that makes the group seem as rigidly polemical as any movement since the French New Wave -- the rules mandate location shoots, hand-held camera, sync sound and music, no additional props, lighting, optical effects, filters or weapons -- these people are inveterate goofballs. The Idiots, still unseen in this country due to its pesky hardcore sex scenes (USA Films promises a release before year‘s end), chronicles a band of social misfits who in public pretend to be retarded, to great and impolitic comic effect. Von Trier’s absurdist epic, the eight-hour (and counting) miniseries The Kingdom, filigrees an ER setting with ghost dogs, psychic surgeons, angry Swedes and Udo Kier as a 10-foot fetus. And Mifune, with a prostitute who pees on an obstreperous client‘s prized Persian rug, and another character who’s a connoisseur of alien crop circles, certainly revels more comfortably in broad conceptual humor than it does in the relentless tragedy of something like Breaking the Waves.

”I think von Trier had a hard time with Breaking the Waves,“ Kragh-Jacobsen says, remembering the movement‘s genesis. ”I’m not sure. But he said, ‘I want to re-find spontaneity. Let’s do joyful filmmaking. Let‘s do completely egoistic films that we 100 percent control.’ So I said, ‘I want to write a film that I would like to go and see Saturday evening with my wife and my kids. I would like to be surrounded by beautiful women the whole summer. And, more or less, I want to have a happy ending. So if Thomas disconnects the family in Festen [The Celebration], I will connect it again. Because I’m 23 years older than he is. I‘ve done my protests, I’ve served my duty.‘

“You are four directors sitting around a table, drinking a lot of wine,” he continues. (Kristian Levring’s The King Is Alive, Dogma 4, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, opens domestically in several months.) “We don‘t agree on a lot of things. So we scream and we shout -- Danes being like Italians -- and we question each other: How do you want to deal with Rule 5, or whatever. I found it very funny.” When asked, do you mean funny ha-ha -- as in, this is some kind of joke? “Of course, it should be funny,” he says, by all accounts, deadly serious. “I mean, life is funny.”

Mifune opens March 3.

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