June 12, 2006

Seattle Dispatch. 4.

Seattle International Film Festival At the Seattle International Film Festival, Sean Axmaker takes measure of the state of Danish cinema.

SIFF cast a spotlight on Denmark with a collection of 14 films, including two documentaries, an animated Midnight Movie, and the entire grunge-noir Pusher trilogy by Nicolas Winding Refn. The eight I've seen suggest that, my personal reservations aside, the Dogme 95 movement may indeed have accomplished its purpose: to break filmmakers' habits and keep them from reflexively falling into the usual cinematic conventions and clichés. A frustrating side effect has been the codification of handheld camerawork defined by exaggerated instability and a hyper-naturalism that has created a whole new roll call of clichéd characters: the motormouth nervous types, repressed figures whose gaze wanders nervously and volatile figures whose emotions careen about and blow up without warning. It's not just the directors who signed off on a Dogme production; it's seeped into a national style, from films as diverse as Refn's Pusher sequels, set in the backstabbing underworld of petty crime with its unforgiving crimelords who eat the drones alive, Pernille Fischer Christensen's precious and impossible love comic drama, A Soap, and Annette K Oleson's 1:1, a nicely observed but familiar social drama of prejudice and racial tension in a Danish slum.

Allegro Which is perhaps why I liked Christoffer Boe's Allegro so much. In his second feature (after the brilliant Reconstruction), Boe takes the handheld work and naturalistic performance style in his own direction, weaving it through a romantic fantasy of troubled love that reveals the impossibility of remaining unhurt in our emotional lives. Ulrich Thomsen wears a mask of complete control as the perfectionist concert pianist ("He is very successful. Not as a human, as a pianist."); he blocks out a painful love affair with such power that it completely leaves his consciousness and forms an impenetrable bubble around a small Copenhagen district. "The Zone" is a fantasy out of Tarkovsky by way of The Matrix and the angel (or perhaps devil) who presides over it (he also happens to be the film's tough-love narrator) sends the pianist a formal invitation to reclaim his past. Boe's use of animated interludes is inspired - I'm enchanted by the visualization of the pianist as a perpetual child wandering through life - and his juxtaposition of the ridiculous and the mundane is both whimsical and painful. As in Reconstruction, Boe offers us a vision of love as a beautiful thing that leaves destruction and pain in its wake. This time he insists that we're not complete without the pain that follows the pleasure.

Anders Thomas Jensen plays with his own divine intervention (of sorts) in Adam's Apples, his blackly comic reworking of the story of Job. Mads Mikkelsen is a cheerfully self-deluded priest in state of self-denial (his wife killed herself, his son is paralyzed and unresponsive, and he has a brain tumor "the size of a volleyball") with a crew of parolee misfits, kind of a warped King of Hearts with a weirdly destructive edge. The eccentric (and at times downright deranged) pastor is convinced he's in a pitched battle with Satan, who could very well have sent him his greatest challenge yet - a violent neo-Nazi parolee (Ulrich Thomsen) who tests his limits and shakes his faith, knowing full well that shocking him out of his warped neverland could kill him. Jensen doesn't pretend it's cute and or harmless - there's a fascinating ambiguity to the happy fantasy laid over the misery and failure - and he pushes every situation to almost unforgivable extremes. That's one way to measure the limits of forgiveness and the healing power of hope.

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Posted by dwhudson at June 12, 2006 2:00 AM