Distinctive Danes Do It With Devotion: The Danish Cinema and Susanne Bier Rave

What's up with Denmark and great cinema anyway? I mean, with a population of just over five million people how is it that the Danes can so consistently produce some of the best films in the world? The Italians, French and British, with their populations of about 60 million each, I understand. After all, it's not all that hard to produce excellence when you've got hordes of people like that. But the Danes, well, they're a lot like the Irish with their music, or the Belgians with their beers and chocolates, or the Kiwis with their rugby players, or the Quebeckers with their hockey goalies, or, even, the Koreans with their Kims. I mean, really, how do they do it? And where do they get all that talent from?

I'm not going to go into detail about specific films here, but I just want to say that two of the best films of the 1990s were by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who, incidentally, were the two founding members of the Dogma 95 movement, which espouses a more simple, back-to-basics approach to filmmaking. Vinterberg's film "The Celebration" (1998) was a masterpiece, but it was von Trier's "Breaking The Waves" (1996) that truly blew my mind. These weren't just good films, they were groundbreaking works of brilliance.

Other notable films of theirs, such as the very challenging and artistic "Dogville" (written and directed by von Trier) and "Dear Wendy" (written by von Trier and directed by Vinterberg), are certainly not for everyone (though I particularly thought "Dogville" was a great film). But anyone with even a passing interest in quality cinema really has no choice but to see "Breaking The Waves" and "The Celebration". I mean, if you haven't seen these two movies yet, you really don't know what you're missing.

There's more to Danish Cinema than von Trier and Vinterberg, however. Personally, the first great Danish film I remember seeing, way back in 1987, was Gabriel Axel's stunning "Babette's Feast". Then there was Bille August's "Pelle the Conqueror", also from '87. But, I have to admit, it wasn't until the arrival of von Trier and Vinterberg that I really started to think of Danish Cinema as something rather distinctive and special.

And that feeling has recently been magnified tenfold since I discovered the hauntingly-beautiful and sometimes-emotionally-wrenching work of writer/director Susanne Bier, who, after seeing just three of her films, I'd now say is one of my favorite directors working today. Last year she came to Hollywood to make the Halle Berry/Benicio Del Toro film "Things We Lost in the Fire", which I thought was terrific, but it was her last two Danish films that totally blew me away. Released in 2004, "Brothers" was an amazing film in every way. But her absolute masterpiece, in my opinion, was "After The Wedding", from 2006. You want to see some seriously-well-acted, totally non-Hollywood, realistic films about realistic characters in the real world, then see these two films.

Of course if your idea of great cinema has anything to do with flying superheroes, Chuck Norrisesque asskickers or anything with a "Part 4" at the end of the title then I'd say you should probably stay far far away from all Danish Cinema. On the other hand, if you enjoy films with real-to-life characters and situations along with honest emotions, some brilliant acting and lots of all around magnificent storytelling thrown in, then I'd say Danish Cinema is almost certainly for you.

I mean, I like the occasional relatively-mindless flick as much as the next guy - ok, maybe not as much as the next guy, but at least from time to time - but sometimes you just need something real, made for, and by, grown-ups. You know, pizza's great and all, but, let's face it, you can't live on the stuff. Sometimes you need a real meal with some real substance.

So, after "Iron Man" and all the rest of the "summer blockbusters" have left you feeling not only empty and used, but also somewhat dirty and distraught, go on out to your local video store and rent a Danish film or two and start replenishing your poor, malnourished soul. Better yet, don't let it get to that point, go on out and rent "Breaking The Waves", "The Celebration", "Brothers" and "After The Wedding" right now! You won't regret it.

Simply forget everything you've been led to believe, passionate, well-acted films about real people, completely void of flying superheroes, really aren't all that bad. Seriously, they aren't.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Tuesday, May 20th, 2008


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