In 1995, a handful of Danish directors celebrated film’s 100th birthday—and captured international attention—with a quasi-religious proclamation, a call for reform and liberation. They pledged to abjure artificial lighting, sets, props, locations, and even personal taste and aesthetic considerations. What was left? It’s hard to say. Thomas Vinterberg is so far the only director to have donned the hair shirt of Dogma 95 principles (in The Celebration) and received a U.S. release. That bitter and loopy indictment of bourgeois society is part of this 11-film series, which explores the Danish New Wave’s many permutations.
Taste does not seem to have been much of a consideration for Lars von Trier in Idiots, his feature (not screening here) about Danish commune members who imitate the mentally retarded (or “spass out”) in public situations. The Humiliated, Jesper Jargil’s documentary on the making of Dogma’s most notorious production, focuses on von Trier’s unorthodox techniques with actors, and includes an audio diary in which he records fears and complaints. The result is an extraordinarily naked portrait of an artist spiraling between megalomania and self-abnegation.
Dogma’s true grit may be a diffuse influence on Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bleeder, a stylish portrait of Danish slackers who just manage to get by, working in video stores, at the doors of nightclubs, and behind lunch counters. This picture of Danish social alienation, filled with compellingly seedy characters, falters only toward its melodramatic climax. In Possessed, by Anders Rønnow-Klarlund, light functions as a metaphor for divine illumination. If medical paranoia is your cup of tea, you may like this fast-paced thriller, which weaves connections between an Ebola-like virus, Eastern European ghosts, international air traffic, and Satanism. Its surprise moral twists are skillfully prepared, though its conclusion rings hollow.
Perhaps you have to go as far away as Greenland to find the purity the Dogmatics are seeking. Jacob Grønlykke’s mesmerizing Heart of Light is the first feature entirely shot on that remote Danish protectorate. Unemployed, alcoholic Rasmus is a failure as a hunter and father. When his elder son shames their family, he harnesses his dogs and sets off on a journey through Greenland’s vast, frozen interior, where stunning landscapes of ice and supernatural creatures await him. There he finally manages to shake off the chains of European identity.