"Mifune" is the latest movie to emerge from Dogma 95, the Scandinavian film collective made famous by "The Celebration." In keeping with the group's strict "vows of chastity," "Mifune" was filmed with no artificial lighting, sets, re-recorded sound or other Dogma no-no's.
Still, the film doesn't edge into the risky territory of "The Celebration." Rather, it uses Dogma 95's radically anti-Hollywood stance to tell a story that would be eminently comfortable in that town.
Anders W. Berthelsen plays Kresten, a businessman living in Copenhagen who has just married the boss's daughter and is embarking on a life of material, if not spiritual, bliss. But Kresten's carefully composed yuppie life is interrupted on his wedding night with the news that his father has died, leaving Kresten's mentally retarded brother Rud (Jesper Asholt) with nobody to take care of him.
Kresten travels to the family farm -- a beautifully decrepit piece of crumbling stateliness in the middle of an undulating wheat field -- and puts an ad in the paper for a housekeeper. Luckily, a prostitute in Copenhagen (Iben Hjejle) is trying to dodge a stalker. She takes the job, and what ensues is as heartwarming and family-friendly as the sweetest Capra-corn. Without the production values, of course.
"Mifune" (the title is taken from a game Kresten and Rud played as children, involving the Kurosawa actor Rud refers to as the "Seventh Samovar") is worth seeing if only for the chance to bask in the sturdy beauty of Hjejle, who made such an impressive American debut in "High Fidelity."
The fact that she's playing a hooker with a heart of gold isn't her fault, although it does suggest that Dogma 95 might amend its rules to ban all stock, cliched and stereotyped characters. Falling into that category as well is Rud, who despite Asholt's best efforts still winds up being the story's dim-witted redemptive figure -- a sort of Forrest Gump without the special effects.
It's probably not a failure of imagination but a testament to the enduring iconic power of classical Western cinema that two efforts to re-invent film -- "Mifune" and "Time Code," which also opens today -- have such trouble coming up with new stories and characters.
Reservations aside, these two films share the distinction of at least attempting not just to move against the grain, but to redefine the grain itself. As we enter what looks to be another mind-numbing summer at the multi-plex, we should be thankful for these iconoclasts, and hope they keep on tweaking.
Starring Anders W. Berthelsen, Jesper Asholt, Iben Hjejle
Directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen
Rated R (strong sexuality and language, and some violence)
Running time 101 minutes
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Sun score **1/2