CANNES ’99: Dogma a go-go!, Winterbottom “Wondering”
by Anthony Kaufman
What was cause for giggles, hisses, and applause at last year’s festival has turned into a veritable cinematic movement, with reverberations well into this final Cannes of the millennium; it’s called “Dogma 95” — that irreverent invention of a group of Danish filmmakers, including Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who have now become household names, gurus even, in the world of low-budget independent filmmaking. Their clarion call – if you haven’t heard enough about it already – is essentially getting back to the filmmaking basics, emphasizing performance and story. No official Dogma films have the competition spots at this year’s festival, but their manifesto can still be heard loud and clear.
First off, there was news of Fine Line’s acquisition of U.S. rights to the next film from Lars Von Trier “Dancer in the Dark,” now in pre-production, and an option on the Danish director’s next two projects, along with Good Machine taking international rights. Then, there was the crowded screenings of two new Dogma films in the Cannes Market on Saturday, the first a world premiere, actor Jean-Marc Barr’s “Lovers,” starring Cannes ’98 best-actress winner Elodie Bouchez (“Dreamlife of Angels“); and the second, Silver Bear and Special Jury Prize winner at Berlin ’99, Soren Kragh-Jacobson’s “Mifune” (acquired pre-fest by Sony Pictures Classics).
The debut market screening of “Lovers,” the first Dogma film to be shot in France, was a hot seat with several US distribution reps in attendance from Strand Releasing to Trimark Pictures to October Films. Director Barr (who starred in Lars Von Trier’s “Zentropa“) was on hand at a second screening, along with his actors, welcoming the audience to the film. In press notes, Barr posed himself the question, “How can one capture the varied emotions of a love story in its evolution, and how with today’s technology and Dogma concept, I can get the most emotive performance from my actors.” The story of a Yugoslavian painter and Parisian woman who fall in love and are forced apart, however, proved better on paper than in execution. Though Bouchez is radiant and the digital video to 35mm blow-up is sharp and glossy, the film lags and the lovers’ chemistry left much to be desired.
“Mifune,” or Dogma 3, was a much better, but still slighter work than the films of his Danish brothers Vinterberg and Von Trier. Quiet and bathed in a warm, natural orange light (shot on film), the story follows a young newlywed husband who must leave his wife behind to handle the affairs of his recently deceased father and his retarded brother in a rural farmhouse. When a young high-priced prostitute leaves her past to fill in the role of housekeeper, the odd trio lives together in less than perfect harmony. Filled with some beautiful moments (especially in the brother – an ode to Von Trier’s ’98 Cannes entry “The Idiots“) but ultimately a little awkward in structure, the film left many in the packed audience – including several on the New York Film Festival selection committee – a bit puzzled.
Besides the officially certified Dogma films, it should be noted that Michael Winterbottom’s “Wonderland” also borrows from the Dogma technique, though let’s not give the Danes credit for all films shot with available light and hand-held cameras. In a conversation over lunch, Winterbottom told members of the press, “It wasn’t a question of following ‘Dogma,’ it was just we had all these characters’ stories, and we wanted to make connections with the people around them, the 7 million people [in London] — we wanted to catch those [spontaneous] moments. In the bars and other locations, we did tests without lights, without boards, without microphones, and nobody paid attention to us. As soon as we put a small light up, everyone was very aware. We just tried to be like three people in the crew and not control the locations, at all.” Shot by documentary cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, Winterbottom went on to say, “It wasn’t meant to be a stylistic thing, it was just that’s how we were working.”
An interesting biz note: “Wonderland,” though in Universal Pictures‘ possession – still has no U.S. distributor prepared to release the film in the States. Universal is no longer equipped to distribute small films, as they recently sold off Polygram (who financed the film), as well as Gramercy Pictures and October Films. Winterbottom explained, “[Universal doesn’t] have any distribution mechanism in place, so the rights are still available…” Adding to widespead speculation that Universal is exploring the creation specialized distribution arm, Winterbottom added “Universal will set up a distributor at some point, so they might distribute it, but if they had the right offer, they might sell it.” Let’s hope so. If not, a very worthy film could remain in limbo for a long time.
Though digital video is not an essential feature of the Dogma gang (as witnessed in “Mifune”), it does fulfill a basic promise of their objective: to make films without illusion, more direct and character-driven New technologies were found in a number of panels on Saturday, investigating the relationship of making films with the help of DV. Screen International New York editor Colin Brown hosted “Film or Digital: How to Choose ?” at the MITIC Media Center, which focuses this year almost entirely on digital video concerns. Panelists included Bertrand Decoux (Kodak), Pierre Poittevin (Fuji), Alain Remond (Barco) and Mathieu Sintas (CST) and their concerns compared the qualities of film and film transfers to DV, as well images shot directly on DV. MITIC also has the slight honor of screening “Lovers” to the public. Throughout MITIC, a number of other notables in the DV world will appear: Peter Broderick (Next Wave Films) will present The Revolution in Filmmaking, with a presentation of Eric Rohmer’s new project, and Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos will premiere their landmark DV feature “The Last Broadcast” on Tuesday.
While MITIC is jumping headlong into technological concerns, Variety’s weekly panel series shifted to the marketing side with “Millennium Movie Marketing: New Media and Methods in Search of the Big Opening,” which explored myriad methods, from the Internet to product tie-ins that film marketers and makers can do to help gain attention for their film. More on MITIC and the new technology panels as the festival continues.
On Sunday, the movie madness in Cannes continues with Competition entries, Chen Kaige’s “The Emperor and The Assassin,” Raul Ruiz’s “Time Regained“, and the out of competition documentary by Werner Herzog, “My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski” about the love hate relationship between the acclaimed German director and his frenzied collaborator, actor Kinski. Also, the Slamdance film festival visits the French Riviera for two days of screenings, marking its presence with the planting of their black and white flag on the beaches here. The ceremony, promises co-fest-founder Dan Mirvish, “will be like ‘Saving Private Ryan ‘ on the beaches of Normandy, but a little smaller and without all the shaky camera moves.”