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Dogma 95

A critical interpretation of the Danish manifesto Dogma 95 which was much discussed at the Cannes Film Festival.
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 Dogma is written in the outdated manifesto form of the historical avant-garde.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.

Jurica Pavičić

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