by Catie Robbins
While Danish director Kristian Levring’s new film The Salvation (2014) is egregiously genre-hugging for many, for Levring it must feel like pure freedom to make a Western at all. As a former member of Dogme 95, the group created by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg in the late nineties, Levring pledged not to make a genre film, this being perhaps the least extreme of measures in their Vow of Chastity which sought to inoculate big budget film with a dose of reality.
1.Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in.
2.The sound must never be produced apart from the image or vice-versa.
3.The camera must be handheld. Any movement or mobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
4.The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable.
5.Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6.The film must not contain superficial action.
7.Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden.
8.Genre movies are not acceptable.
9.The film format must be Academy 35mm.
10.The director must not be credited.
The first Dogme 95 film was Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen–following almost all rules, it won the Jury prize in Cannes in 1998, not to mention hella other noms and wins. At least 30 more Dogme films followed, each numbered and marked as such in the opening credits, although looking at this list, what we see is a lot of one night stands. In telling contrast with film movements such as Italian neorealism or French new wave, both influential to the Dogme movement if only in their subversivism, the four founding Brethren (von Trier, Vinterberg, Søren Pragh-Jacobsen and Levring) did not work within the tenants of the code more than once.
What deserves respect is not noms and wins for Dogme films, but neither does the general collapse of the movement by 2005 deem it useless. Dogme 95 is more or less acknowledged even by its founders as a paradox: in seeking to avoid genre, it created a new genre, and in seeking realism, it found yet another set of filmic illusions conspiring to represent the real. Yet somehow judging Dogme 95 feels like falling into its trap–with a name like Dogme 95, it’s difficult to assume no irony in the upper rafters of their idealism.
“Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste. I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a ‘work’, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.” (The Manifesto)
When Levring now says of Dogme 95 “it put us on the map,” what he’s really saying has to be, it was at least partially publicity stunt, and in hind sight, very much a publicity stunt, having actually succeeded in securing more funding from the Danish government for national cinema. I don’t know about the Danish government, but stunts are not all bad, and furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with a set of ten ridiculous rules to incite creativity. Any ten rules will lead you to make an interesting film. The only absurdity of Dogme 95 was their belief that ten rules could elevate the work out of the realm of art, or that that could be a good thing.
Levring’s done with Dogme: The Salvation is pure genre film undiluted by any realistic or spontaneous element, and that may be good or bad. Okay, in this case it’s not good. In any case, Levring’s 360 about face on his movement that is after all 20 years old indicates a continually seeking artist. Virtuosity is 100 percent good, and promises of good yet to come.
We also liked this article about Dogme 95’s claim on realism @ thefilmjournal