Though the Danish cinema was praised many times over the 1980s (Babette’s Feast that was awarded the 1988 Oscar for Best Foreign Film; Pelle the Conqueror awarded the 1988 Golden Palm), it has long remained associated with Carl Th. Dreyer’s figure. The emergence of Dogme at Lars von Trier’s and Thomas Vinterberg’s initiative in 1995 shook Denmark and announced the rebirth of the Danish cinema.
The film-maker shall abide by the ten Dogme’s rules
On 20th March 1995, as he was attending the celebration ceremony of cinema’s birth at the Odeon theatre in Paris, Lars von Trier flayed the way films were made during the 1980s-1990s and announced the birth of Dogme 95. This brand new cinematic movement aimed at guarding cinema against the superficiality of Hollywoodian productions. Aloud, Lars von Trier proclaimed the ten commandments contained in the Dogme Manifesto. Together, they constituted a list of ten interdictions cheerfully welcomed by the audience gathered at the Odeon theatre. From then on, special lighting was not acceptable, the camera must be hand-held, the film must be in colour, the sound must never be produced apart from the images and the director must not be credited. Described as “untenable” and “paradoxical” by the four founding fathers of the movement (Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Soren Kragh Jacobsen and Kristian Levring), these rules are first and foremost a great opportunity for the new generation of Danish film-makers to experiment a new way of making cinema.
1998, the Danish wave breaks on the world of cinema
The five first Dogme films were released between 1998 and 2000. Three years had gone by since the Dogme’s birth. During these three years the film-makers had to convince the Danish Film Institute to give them subsidies since they refused to present their scripts. Lars von Trier, as a film-maker and co-owner of the biggest Danish production firm (Zentropa), made a lot to make the Dogme known. At last, the two first Dogme films, Festen by Thomas Vinterberg and The Idiots by Lars von Trier were presented at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. The movement was absolutely recognized when Thomas Vinterberg received the Special Prize of the Jury. It was the beginning of success for the new generation of film-makers among whom Soren Kragh-Jacobsen (Mifune, 1999 Silver Bear), Kristian Leving (The King is Alive) et Lone Scherfig (Italian for beginners, one the biggest success in Denmark.) Several film-makers followed them and the Dogme’s rules letting the movement run out of breath.
March 1995: Dogme is dead, Long live Dogme!
Since the beginning of the 2000s, one question has regularly been raised on the front stage: is Dogme only a matter of five films? Praised by critics and awarded by pairs, the Dogme film-makers reached international glory. Most of them went to Hollywood where they made English speaking films (It’s all about love, Thomas Vinterberg ; Things we lost in fire, Susanne Bier…) thus deceiving critics and audiences. To avoid being trapped by the rules of a movement that would have limited their creativity, Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier finally proclaimed the death of the Dogme on 20th March 1995, ten years after its birth.
Dogme nevertheless contributed to bring the Danish cinema back to life and to give more freedom to film-makers. The realist injuction let film-makers to shoot longer scenes and to let express the actors’ feelings as it has seldom been done before.
Coming next, LARS VON TRIER…