Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Mifune

By Marjorie Baumgarten

APRIL 24, 2000: 

D: Søren Kragh-Jacobsen; with Anders W. Berthelsen, Iben Hjejle, Jesper Asholt, Sofie Gråbol, Emil Tarding. (R, 99 min.)

This Danish movie, which won top prize at last year's Berlin Film Festival, is also recognized as the third product of the Dogma 95 Collective. What does that mean? It means that, like the other two Danish films that preceded it ­ Lars Von Trier's The Idiots (opening in Austin in coming weeks) and Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration (as well as Harmony Korine's token American work julien donkey-boy) ­ Mifune conforms to strict production standards designed to strip filmmaking of its artificiality and pretense and focus on storytelling and non-technological truths. Dogma 95 comes with a list of 10 commandments, which have come to be known as the Vow of Chastity: They include such mandates as shooting on location with no props or outside set decor brought in, not using any sound recorded separately from the action, using hand-held cameras with no optical work or special lighting permitted, and the disavowal of genre movies and special credit for the director. All this has ironically created more international interest in the Danish film industry and more commercial success for these movies than might have otherwise been possible. It also has created a sub-field of Dogma 95 observation in which the director's "confession" of his deviation from the rules is part of the finished product and an armchair viewers' game that might be call "spot the breach." However, the rigor and attention to the "essentials" of filmmaking have created a style that not only emphasizes family drama and realistic narrative, but have also provided filmmakers with the functionality of a stripped-down style that flies in the face of the amped-up special-effects contests that have defined the state of the art of filmmaking in recent decades. Mifune comes to us amid this background. It tells the story of Kresten (Berthelsen), a young, successful businessman in Copenhagen, who, as the movie opens, has just married the boss' daughter. The morning after the wedding he receives a phone call telling him that his father has died, information which proves problematic since he has told everyone in Copenhagen ­ including his bride ­ that he has no living relatives. He returns to his father's dilapidated farm and home, where his mentally handicapped brother (Asholt) is now in need of someone to care for him. Kresten places an ad for a housekeeper and hires Liva (Hjejle, who also stars in High Fidelity), a beautiful woman who is also pretending to be someone she is not. Her philosophy of life? "Life is one long turd that you have to take another bite of every day." And then there's the title of the movie, which comes from a game Kresten plays with his brother Rud: Kresten runs about wearing a pot on his head with two gloves taped to the sides, pretending to be the actor Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai, a movie in which the character is actually a peasant who passes as a samurai. All in all, Mifune is a dark family comedy (or a humorous family drama) ­ curious and effective while unspooling, yet lacking enduring resonance beyond its limited running time. Like one of the tenets of Dogma 95, Mifune exists entirely in its here and now.

3 Stars

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