Mifune is the third instalment to Dogme’95, a rigid film movement set up by a Danish frat-pack who had filmmakers sign a “vow of chastity” prohibiting them from using bourgeoise luxuries and “directorial touches” like props, nondiegetic sound/effects and genre pieces. Following on from Thomas Vinterberg’s quintessentially dark Danish drama Festen and enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s gratuitous The Idiots, stripped of a directing credit, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune is a lighter, considerably commercial film in the Dogme universe. An unadorned, kooky take on the classic Hollywood rom-com adage.
After consummating the vows on the night of his wedding, lustful Copenhagen yuppie Kresten (Anders Bertholesen) gets an unexpected wakeup call with news that his estranged father has died. Previously claiming he had no family, Kresten is forced by his father’s untimely death to abandon his bride Claire and return to the dilapidated farm of his youth and his hermitic, severely autistic brother Rud (Jesper Asholt).
With the first third playing out like a more bittersweet Danish equivalent to Barry Levinson’s Rain Man, Mifune goes all a bit Pretty Woman when Kresten, unbeknownst to him, hires former prostitute Liva (Iben Hjejle) as the live-in housekeeper and nanny for UFO-obsessed Rud. With these three characters all living under the same rotting roof, it doesn’t take long for unrequited romance to blossom and friction to rise to the surface.
Filmed over a brief ten days, it’s remarkable how Kragh-Jacobsen has been able to produce some fantastic performances in Mifune. Asholt embodies the fragile character Rud with delicate perspicacity, whilst Hjejle enchants as the rational and moralistic ex-hooker.
Most impressive of all is that, even when bound to the written code of conduct, this third Dogme film is that it doesn’t feel dogmatic at all. Kragh-Jacobsen’s enforced minimal style feels intrinsic to the thematically austere story. The result is an impressive example of thrifty, barebones storytelling, but one that is ultimately forgettable as soon as the makeshift credits swipe across the screen.
Back in 1995 at a Parisian film conference, provocative Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier announced a new quasi-communist film movement he and crony Thomas Vinterberg had been manifesting. Equipped with ten commandments, or filmmaker obstructions, Dogme ‘95 was the linchpin for a new wave of European filmmakers which were able to embrace the new digital technology without needing to worry about the costly constraints of high production values or studio backing (somewhat ironically, as original rules indicated that filming had to be done on 35mm).
Democratising the media, the collective established 39 credited Dogme-adhering films break at least one of the manifesto dictums. Undoubtedly visionary, the problem with the whole shebang is that a lot of the films simply do not work on an audience/entertainment level. The Idiots is one of them.
Made three years after the infamous French declaration, this is Lars von Trier’s only film produced under his self-made regime. The constant contrarian, he probably got bored of the limitations he himself imposed and decided to take his career in a new direction (cue Dancer in the Dark, the director’s best film). A liberation movie, of sorts, The Idiots centres around a young bourgeoisie who debunk break social conforms by living as a collective embracing their psychological “inner idiots” or, to put it plainly, cruelly act out as a bunch of mentally handicapped sycophants.
Although The Idiots doesn’t reach the multifariously entertaining heights of the first Dogme film, Vinterbeg’s Festen (The Celebration, 1998), it is another testament to LvT’s ability to absorb audiences into complex stories through the reactionary emotion of shock. But is this truly horrid talent something worth meriting?
What stops The Idiots from being a mini-masterpiece within LvT’s oeuvre is it’s desperation to be regarded with profundity, adopting a bombastic, socio-reflexive stance about the absurdity of modern day – a ‘keeping up appearances’ culture – rather than just sticking to the obstreperous old fart’s roots as an art film filmmaker. By attempting to play the renegade,The Idiots ironically ends up being a film with no integrity or stance, unfairly glamorising a taboo subject matter which was probably best left alone.