Combustible Celluloid
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With: Iben Hjejle, Anders W. Berthelsen, Jesper Asholt, Emil Tarding, Anders Hove, Paprika Steen
Written by: Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Anders Thomas Jensen
Directed by: Søren Kragh-Jacobsen
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and language, and for some violence
Language: Danish with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 02/13/1999

Mifune (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Samurai Story

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If Mifune wasn't the third of the celebrated "Dogme 95" films from Denmark, it surely would have disintegrated into the worst kind of Hollywood rubbish. Here we have a story of an oddball loser, his retarded brother and his hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriend. Imagine this movie done by Garry Marshall and starring Tom Hanks and you'll see what I mean.

But Mifune automatically prevents itself from falling into that trap by following the Dogme standards. According to the rules, which were set up by Danish filmmakers Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves The Idiots), Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), and Mifune director Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, filmmakers may only use natural light (except for a light that may be mounted on the camera itself), hand-held cameras, and color, 35mm film. (Cinematography on Mifune is by Anthony Dod Mantle, who also photographed the Dogme 95 films The Celebration and julien donkey-boy.) All props must be found on the set; none may be brought in. No special effects are allowed. All stories take place in the present day (no genre films or period pieces). And, most importantly to Mifune, no music may be added. All music must be played on location during filming. (Can you imagine how horrible the music would have been in my imaginary Garry Marshall picture?)

After the last three dour and serious films, Mifune is a good lightweight way to enjoy a Dogme film. Our hero is Kresten (Anders W. Berthelsen) whom we first see getting married. The morning after his wedding night, he gets a call that his father has died. Unfortunately, his retarded brother Rud (Jesper Asholt) now needs to be taken care of. Kresten hires a woman, Liva (Iben Hjejle) to be their maid, but unbeknownst to him, she's a hooker hiding out from a stalker.

These three misfits, plus Liva's brother (Emil Tarding), live on a decaying farm that is now the brother's property. The strangest twist to this story is that Kresten leaves his wife behind on the first day of their wedding and doesn't seem to care much about her. We see them having sex on their wedding night and Kresten looks bored and humiliated. And yet he can't wait to sleep with Liva, who makes a living having sex. Tellingly, the one time we see Liva working as a hooker, she refuses sex with her customer. So we've got the basic Madonna-whore complex, but in reverse.

The rest of the story plays out pretty much as predicted, with friction between Rud and Liva's brother and Rud's moments of upset. The title comes from a game that Kresten and Rud play. When Rud is upset, Kresten pretends to look for Toshiro Mifune (the famous Japanese actor from Rashomon and Seven Samurai) in their basement. He makes grunting noises like Mifune and pretends to be talking to him, to Rud's utter delight. Sometimes Mifune comes out and plays samurai games with Rud. Because of the film's stripped-down nature this potentially cloying scene works.

Though The Idiots, The Celebration, and julien donkey-boy were all more ambitious, I like Mifune because it shows an example of how Hollywood movies could be more interesting. By following the Dogme 95 rules and cutting out waste and glitz, Mifune simply tells a story. And despite all its characters being clichés, they come to life.

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