I CAN ENVISION effects-happy David Fincher attempting to conform to the Dogme 95 "Vow of Chastity" . . . then finally killing himself in frustration, ࠬa his Fight Club protagonist, with a Smith & Wesson hummer.
As this long-weekend hodgepodge of four films and one panel discussion reminds us, the 10 restrictive Dogme commandments are still startling seven years after their inception. Limiting a director to handheld cameras and natural lighting is one thing; mandates like "The film must not contain superficial action" and "Genre films are not acceptable" border on laughable.
Conceived by Danish auteurs Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, the Dogme school of thought was initially admirable, giving voice and form to creative minds frustrated with stale, overblown cinema. The rub: By dressing its 25 certified efforts in the Vow's "uniform" and shattering the supposed decadence of "the individual film," Dogme ultimately propagates "certain tendencies" of cookie-cutter filmmaking that got everyone up in arms in the first place. An all-natural, nonfattening cookie is, after all, still a cookie. The movement's truest, best legacy has been inspiring a resurgence of minimalist invention in non-Dogme indie cinema (see: Larry Clark, or even von Trier's own Dancer in the Dark).
By simply playing it safe, two recent new-school Dogme efforts underscore the movement's stagnation. Reunion (7 p.m. Sun., May 5) and Security, Colorado (9 p.m. Sun., May 5) are both American efforts, but they bear little resemblance to their domestic Dogme forebear, Harmony Korine's nonlinear rogue's gallery Julien Donkey-Boy. Both merely run talky low-budget psychodrama through the unblinking Dogme "truth" machine. Reunion predictably dissects the hang-ups, secrets, and failures of eight former Cali classmates before their 20-year-anniversary hoedown. Its stock revelations—one alum is gay, another's a cokehead—are massive entertainment compared to Security, a numbingly amateurish tale of a young writer who relocates to the 'burbs to appease her boyfriend, only to find her professional ambition sapped. Their endless hashing-out sessions are wrought with painfully stammered overemoting.
Far more compelling is The Humiliated (9 p.m. Fri., May 3 and Sat., May 4), a making-of documentary chronicling von Trier's seminal 1998 Dogme endurance test, The Idiots. His diary entries bemoan the cast's ineptitude, question his worth as a director, and even reveal his hypochondria about cancer. Love or loathe it, The Idiots remains a jarring, confrontational idea that single-handedly justifies Dogme's gauntlet. It'll take an effort worthy of King Arthur to extract that gauntlet from the ensuing muck of insignificance.