Faith, hope, chastity,
A story about child abuse and a strict filmmaking style has brought THOMAS VINTERBERG and Festen into the international spotlight. Words: Alan Morrison
In Copenhagen on New Year’s Day. the newspapers were previewing the year ahead. The European Union was causing some concern. and the Prime Minister was taking a bit of a knocking for the promises he’d made in a televised speech. One thing was clear. however: America might as well send over the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar now. because it was surely going to go to I’esten.
Six weeks later. and Thomas Vinterberg’s film is conspicuously absent from the nominations list. Festen won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and has been lauded by critics across the world. but its style and subject have proved too strong for Academy voters - mixing comedy with a Holocaust story is as far as they’ll go where controversy is concerned. Festen. with a plot centred on revelations of incest and child abuse. filmed in the unadorned manner upheld by the signatories of DOGME 95. has the subtitles but not the sentimentality to endear it to an American audience.
The film comes to British screens at a time when Danish cinema is in the spotlight. Earlier in the 90s. international hits from Bille August (Pelle The Conqueror) and Lars Von Trier (Breaking The Waves) opened foreign doors for films including Nig/ttwatch and Pusher.
Despite this diversity. Von Trier. Vinterberg and some of their colleagues reckoned Danish film culture was too restrictive. Their solution was to adhere to the ten rules in the DOGME 95 ‘Vow of Chastity‘; articles state that shooting must be done on location. the camera must be hand-held and no music can be added to the soundtrack. The aim is. basically. to remove the director from the work.
‘The rules - the limitations - turned the work into the most enjoyable and actually the most liberating project I’ve ever been involved in.’ insists 29-year- old Vinterberg. ‘When you have a set of rules like ours. you recode your brain to think within them. and to create a dream-like world within what one has on handf
'l have penetrated a layer of evil and abomination I'd never been to before.’ Thomas Vinterberg
Making the rules: Thomas Vinterberg. director of Festen
The DOGME 95 method has met with mixed receptions. Von Trier’s The Idiots. which includes a scene where a group of people pretending to be mentally disabled have an orgy, was recently passed uncut in the UK after having been referred to the Home Office. Last week. Spren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune's Last Song won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. In Fesren. the quasi-documentary style successfully pulls the audience into the uncomfortany intimate setting: the birthday party of a stern father. which is about to be disrupted when one son stands up to give a speech triggered by the death of his twin sister the year before.
‘My other films all appealed to an emotion that’s closer to the surface. a kind of sentimental feeling that has yielded immediate responses.’ says Vinterberg. ‘This one apparently lies several layers deeper down. People who have seen it have reacted very much the same way: namely with deep, deep silence and darkness. They’ve totally entrenched themselves by the time the credits appear. It’s been very weird for me to encounter such silence at the end of my film.’
DOOME 95 demands that the director’s credit is removed from the film. but it’s obvious that Vinterberg is pleased with his personal achievements with Fesren. ‘I feel I’ve done something pretty consistent.’ he adds. ‘I have penetrated a layer of evil and abomination I’d never been to before.’
Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 5 Mar. See review.
Big sa’een bits and pieces
GLASGOW FILM THEATRE's new director, who takes up the post in May. is Jaki McDougall, currently Exhibition Development Officer with the British Film Institute. Born in Glasgow, McDougall has been working in London since 1991, but was previously manager of Edinburgh's Cameo Cinema. She has also worked as an actress and administrator for English community theatre company Kneehigh Theatre.
McDougalI takes over from Ken Ingles, who becomes director of the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, now that its director, Jim Hamilton, has gone to London to head up the National Film Theatre.
WORLD CINEMA FANS who find it difficult to get their hands on quality videos can turn to the internet for salvation. A visit to www.filmworld.co.uk offers an exceptional list of DVD and video titles for on-line sale, combined with a new release section for pre-orders. The Filmworld site features news on festivals and new cinema releases, while the 'store' also stocks film books, soundtracks and posters.
Rough Cuts was particularly impressed by the rental section, which offers 200 titles from L'Awentura to Yojimbo for £5 per week, and the list of 100 viewable trailers, which includes eagerly awaited movies like Cronenberg's eXistenZ and Woody Allen's Celebrity.
BUDDING SCRIPTWRITERS should note the 30 April deadline for the Euroscript Film Story Competition. Funded by MEDIA II, the Europe- wide scheme aims to turn story ideas into finished screenplays as the writers work with experienced script editors over a six month period. Submissions must come in the form of a four-page proposal of an original film story by a writer who is resident in the European Union. Entry fee is £25, and forms and information are available from Euroscript, 114 Whitfield Street, London, W1? SRW (0171 387 5880). Monica Vitti in L'Avventura: available at Filmworld
4—18 Mar 1999 THE LIST 23