A critical interpretation of the Danish
manifesto Dogma 95 which was much discussed at the Cannes
For three years the text of Dogma 95 had been an internal Scandinavian
matter. At the last Cannes Film Festival it became a hot critical topic since
the manifesto was supported by two films appearing under the mark of Dogma
95: Idioterne by Lars Von Trier, the spiritus movens of Dogma 95,
and Festen by Thomas Vinterberg. Dogma consists of a two page manifesto
attacking the recent technological storm as a sign of decadency that makes fools
out of audiences. The primacy of illusion in contemporary cinema is to be defined
by a vow of truth and a vow of purity.
Dogma 95 confronts the present
cinema situation through its 10 vows (dogmas): (1) shooting
only on location with found props, (2) shooting only indigenous
sound (and music), (3) using only hand-held camera, (4)
using only film in color and location lighting, (5) no
optical processing and use of filters, (6) no superficial
action, (7) portraying only things that are »here and now«,
(8) no genre, (9) obligatory 35 mm stock format, (10) director
is not declared in the credit titles. Dogma is written
in the outdated manifesto form of the historical avant-garde.
It is very rigid in its formulations and uses a military-monastic
language style. By declaring war on all dominant trends
in the cinema at the end of the century, it gained enthusiastic
supporters as well as strong adversaries. Many of the basic
attitudes and propositions of Dogma are already
well known in the history of the avant-garde film (e. g.
fighting against film illusionism, shrugging off
the »bourgeois« approach, calling for a »resistance« toward
dominant trends), and the religious singling out of »truth«
as the criterion is well known from the fifties, when the
concept of film as an essentially realistic medium was
strongly stated. Looking at the Dogma films presented at
the Cannes Festival one can observe some additional problems.
E. g. Vinterberg’s excellent film Festen is
quite conventional in its content development (a classical
genre of Scandinavian family drama), with closely observed
classical dramaturgy (conflict, culmination, resolution).
Von Trier’s film Idioterne discloses its »truth
seeking« as ideologically prejudiced, through its pseudodocumentary
style and its choice of extreme situations and characters.
Both films cultivate a complex editing manipulation, and
editing is not questioned by Dogma though it was
in the history of the realist theory of film. Even if it
is not new, nor entirely convincing in its propositions, Dogma nevertheless
offers a recognizable alternative to the predominantly
»formalist« (virtual reality, computer generated images,
technological) trends of the eighties onward. It does so
by mystifying a technology-defying production and intentionally
crude style that manifestly proclaims the films as »made without special effects«,
as Eco suggested that some films will be billed when CGI
(the computer generated images) will become a routine fact
of the cinema at the beginning of the next century.