Dogme #1: Vinterberg's Celebration (originally Festen) is still my favorite of all the Dogme films (though admittedly I missed a lot of the later ones). There's a massive family reunion for Helge, but no one can understand why his eldest son Christian is acting completely out of control... except his sister or who shares his dark secret. It becomes a dark, brutal struggle between the rest of the extended family to stay together and Christian to reveal the truth. It's based on an original screenplay, but has since been adapted to stage on Broadway and around the world, where it's fame, particularly in London, may have since eclipsed the original film. But The Celebration is powerful, and still holds up as a fascinating, low-fi watch you can't tear your eyes away from.
Universal/ Focus Features released this Stateside in 2004, with a straight-forward barebones edition that I immediately replaced with 2005's Danish box set from Zentropa Films.
|2004 Universal DVD on top; 2005 Zentropa DVD below.|
Dogme #2: Everyone associates Dogme '95 with Lars von Trier, naturally; but he's actually only made one Dogme film, The Idiots. I wouldn't hold it up as one of his better films or one of the best Dogme films, but it's certainly worth seeing once, at least. It certainly doesn't have the most likeable characters, as a collective of young adults perform a sort of communal social experiment where they pretend to be mentally handicapped to reap any benefit society will bestow upon them while reveling in the discomfort they 'cause the local community. Still, one woman is taken in by the strangely therapeutic side of their "spassing" and "channeling their inner idiot" and decides to join them. But how long can they really maintain the lifestyle?
The Idiots garnered a lot of controversy, not only for the many offensive things you can imagine would pop up reading the above description, but also for frank sex and lots of full frontal nudity. As such, it's the only early Dogme film not to have been released in the US. So us film fans naturally imported the 2000 UK disc by Tartan. But again, I was all too happy to replace it in 2005.
|2000 Tartan DVD on top; 2005 Zentropa DVD below.|
Dogme #3: Mifune. Admittedly, when I first saw Mifune (a.k.a. Mifine's Last Song), I didn't like it. It felt really pandering, like some Hollywood schmaltz, and it kind of is. It's about two brothers, one of whom is mentally handicapped, who are left to run a farm when their father dies. And the other brother keeps the other brother's spirits up by pretending to be a samurai named Mifune (named after Toshiro Mifune, from all the Kurosawa films), who he convinces lives on the farm with them. But on later viewings, I have to say the story of the prostitute and her young brother, who move in with them, is actually fairly affecting. If it's Hollywood-style schmaltz, it's at least good schmaltz. The film is well acted and the director makes things work more than they should, which is especially impressive given the strict Dogme limitations. He couldn't exactly lather on a sentimental soundtrack, for example.
Columbia Tri-Star released this one in the US, but again, this Zentropa set crushes it.
We gain some ground and we lose some. The subtitles are happily not burnt onto the Columbia Tri-Star DVD, but the colors are as off as ever (overly green this time) and now we've got a serious interlacing problem. Admittedly, the digital nature of these Dogme film gives a little interlacing to each of them; but the US DVD clearly has a problem, which the Zentropa disc fixes. It also reveals a little more picture along the sides. And the Zentropa image has more detail, which is awkwardly smoothed away from the Columbia effort.
On the other hand, this is the first Dogme DVD that had some solid special features the first time around. Or at least one big one: audio commentary by the director. It also has the trailer and some bonus trailers. Well, the Zentropa disc carries the commentary and trailer over, but also adds a lot more. There's also a bunch of deleted scenes, with optional commentary, a 45-minute documentary called On the Road With Mifune, about promoting the film, taking it to film festivals, etc, a half-hour 'making of' doc and a 20-minute retrospective.
Dogme #4: The first three Dogme films got bigger commercial receptions, but you can feel that The King Is Alive is in some ways a bigger movie, with higher picture quality and American stars including David Bradley, Brion James and Jennifer Jason Leigh near the peak of her fame. It's the story of a busload of international tourists who break down in the heart of an African dessert, and with little hope of rescue or escape, keep their sanity by putting on a performance of King Lear while they await the inevitable. This is the darkest, most nihilistic Dogme yet, which is saying something considering Lars von Trier had already made one.
MGM released this DVD in 2002, but does it stand up to the Zentropa re-release? Guess.
So the Dogme box-set blows all other international releases of the first four films away. But wait, that's not even all! Discs #4 and 5 also have a wealth of documentaries and shorts about the Dogme movement itself. The King Is Alive's disc also includes three featurettes called The Birth of Dogma 95, Marketing Dogma and The Inheritance After Dogma (yes, all spelled with a's instead of e's), which range from 15-35 minutes each. They consist of on-camera interviews with all the directors and producers looking back on their experiences. Then the bonus disc has more documentaries on Dogme, this time collected from other countries. There's a silly one called Wag the Dogma, where the director chases after Trier and other Dogme heads for interviews and turns the rules into a country song. There's a more serious, hour-long doc called Freedogme, a featurette about Trier's DoP, Anthony Dod Mantle, and a short featurette about Dogme films playing at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals.
And finally, the short documentary Lars From 1-10, which Warner Bros had released on a few short film compilations previously, is included here as well. I was happy to be able to sell my Shorts 07: Utopia DVD when I got this set. 🙂 Oh, and there's a 16-page booklet with notes by Peter Schepelern, which yes, is in English, too.