It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Mifune" is the latest work with the imprimatur of Dogma '95, a group of Danish filmmakers who signed a cinematic "vow of chastity"--reserving poverty and obedience, apparently, for TV directors. Dogma films are encouraged to use natural light and sound, real locations, no props or music brought in from outside, hand-held cameras and "no directorial touches," as if the auteur theory was shamelessly immodest. Of the Dogma films I have seen ("The Idiots," "The Celebration") and the Dogma wannabe "julien donkey-boy," it is the most fun and the least dogmatic. With just a few more advances--like props, sets, lighting, music and style--the Dogma crowd will be making real movies.
Only kidding. But in truth, Dogma '95 is as much publicity as conviction, and its films contain more, not less, directorial style. Like the American indie movement, it calls for small budgets and unsprung plots, but that's not a creed, it's a strategy for making a virtue of necessity. That the Dogma films have been good and interesting is encouraging, but a coincidence.
The story of "Mifune" breaks down no barriers but is in the tradition of offbeat romantic comedy, and one can imagine it being remade by Hollywood with Jeff Daniels as the hero, Martin Short as the retarded brother, and Angelina Jolie as the hooker. It is a "commercial" story, and all the more entertaining for being so, but Soren Kragh-Jacobsen's low-rent version has a freshness and spontaneity that the Hollywood version would probably lose. There's something about ground-level filmmaking that makes an audience feel a movie is getting away with something.
The story begins with the wedding of Kresten (Anders W. Berthelsen) and Claire (Sofie Grabol). If the eye contact between Kresten and Claire's sexy mother is any indication, this marriage might have soon grown very complicated, but Kresten's past catches up with him and dooms the marriage (not, luckily for Claire, before a wedding night that seems to set Guinness records). Kresten learns that his father has died, and he has avoided telling his wife and snotty in-laws about his family's ramshackle farm, his retarded brother or his mother who hung herself on "one of the oldest trees in Denmark." ("He grew up," observes A. O. Scott, "in the Danish translation of a Tennessee Williams play.") Kresten returns to the farm, which is a rundown shambles with water damage and animals making free use of the house and finds his brother Rud (Jesper Asholt) drinking under the table that bears the father's corpse. What to do? Rud cannot take care of himself, the farm is falling to pieces, and this is not the kind of situation he can bring Claire into. Desperate, Kresten hires a housekeeper named Liva, played by Iben Hjejle (she plays Laura, the lost love, in "High Fidelity"). Liva is desperate, too; we learn she was a hooker, is being pursued by an angry pimp and receives alarming phone calls.