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From Festen to floating Africans.
“Does this all make sense? Or is it too weird?” Thomas Vinterberg smiles indulgently. The young Danish director is remembering his life after Festen, released in 1998 alongside Lars von Trier’s The Idiots. They were the first Dogme films, and in the following years would carve out a new place in movie history for Denmark, while their use of digital film has changed the face of mainstream cinema.
Von Trier’s career rocketed. But where was Thomas? “I flew around the world, celebrating myself. I felt flattered, I felt attracted to this life and airplanes and limousines. But still it wasn’t really there. It was like it didn’t happen. It was an illusion,” he says.
Well, after a six-year hiatus he’s back, having used his time living a phoney high life as the basis for a “little fairy tale” called It’s All About Love. Fans expecting a Dogme rerun from the movement’s progenitor should be prepared. In his new film the world freezes over, Ugandans fly and ice skaters are cloned. Is that too weird?
“I can’t logically say what we were doing, apart from ‘that sounds fantastic, what a cool idea’,” Vinterberg enthuses. “But of course, flying Ugandans is a comment on the absurdness of the amount of horror we watch on television screens without paying attention to it.” Naturally.
The film’s meditation on how messed up the world is follows its own exuberantly kooky, whimsical path. Clare Danes plays a Polish ice skater whose estranged intellectual husband, Joaquin Phoenix, arrives in New York for a last reunion before their divorce. People are dying in the street from lack of love and, much like this January, the Big Apple is locked in a deep freeze. Something is afoot at the ice skaters’ hotel as well, where sinister hooded ladies who look a lot like Danes run amok. Meanwhile, Sean Penn philosophises on an encroaching weather apocalypse from the back of an airplane and people in Africa are floating in the air.
It’s wilfully crazed, but there’s brilliance in the excess. And besides, Vinterberg has learnt that pleasing everyone is a dangerous business. “It’s always bad if you make a film or a piece of art and you fail with it. Artistically, it compromises your self-confidence and courage. But it’s even worse with success… [After Festen] I was sent all these scripts and I could do whatever I liked. I couldn’t decide. That was a bit of a problem,” he explains.
It’s All About Love exorcises those “public expectation” demons, but will Denmark’s boy wonder keep up the surprise factor? “If you have Festen all the way to the left and It’s All About Love all the way to the right, I think that all of my films throughout the rest of this life will be somewhere in the middle.” He pauses. “I just had to find the walls of the room I’m playing in.” Time to play then. Skye Sherwin 13 February 04
It’s All About Love, on selected release 13 February 04.
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