Sunday, October 23, 2005

Thomas Vinterberg - Dear Wendy

Post number dos which is better than most.

Thomas Vinterberg - Dear Wendy

All I knew about this film when I walked into the theater was that it was written by Lars Von Trier and was an exploration about America’s fascination with guns and violence through a small town in the far west. Sounds like Dogville right? Well to director Thomas Vinterberg’s credit, the film manages to go in a completely different direction and proves to not only be an interesting take on the subject but also surprisingly entertaining and…cool. Now I don’t really associate anything Danish with cool except their weather and Anarchist market (Free Christiania!), but Dear Wendy one ups American and Japanese cinema by eschewing a Von Trieresque minimalism for a vivid, kinetic look that’s unafraid to use pop montage and interesting design to show the typical in a new light. The plot is simple: the geeky, rejected kids of a small western community called Electric Park Square find their salvation by forming a historical society called the Dandies. The problem is that the focus of this society is firearms and their operation. While one of the first laws in the club is that no one may actually draw their guns outside of the shooting range (they’re pacifists you see), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this rule will be broken before the film ends. While the film is essentially a coming of age story complete with Wonder Years voiceover; it succeeds due to its interesting character interplay, subtle social criticism and engrossing design. The latter is particularly worth mentioning as the sets and locations really draw us into the character’s world which is no bigger than a couple of blocks. Like Gangs of New York, this small area is extremely defined yet is so alien and enclosed that it almost becomes a character in itself. The mapping out of the neighborhood is a particularly fun moment as it’s described as through the eyes of a child with the Dandies giving grandiose names to local “landmarks” while the adults around them simply walk by them every day. These Dandies meanwhile gradually gain confidence and begin dressing flamboyantly becoming some sort of mix between southern American and English aristocracy as seen through the eyes of bored teenagers. While we’ve seen the isolated teens invent their own fantasy world story told a million times, when it’s told well it still comes off fresh.  Finally, the film’s soundtrack is entirely Zombies based. If you don’t love that, then you have no soul.

While the film isn’t perfect or even mind blowing, it’s entirely satisfying and works on every level it attempt to engage. One could easily take this as escapist entertainment with a subtle social message or on the contrary, consider it a social film done in an entertaining way. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more from Mr. Vinterberg including his 2 year old film It’s All About Love which is being released to DVD this week. Until then, I highly recommend Dear Wendy if it gets screened in your area. It’s a fun film that means something. Who knew we’d have to go to Denmark to get one of THOSE in English?


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