By the 1990’s, filmmakers worldwide were starting to resent the direction that cinema was going in. From Hollywood to Bollywood to nearly every other “wood” in between, big-budget movies were taking over the landscape of film. In response, Danish filmmakers Lars von Trier, Kristian Levring, Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, and Thomas Vinterberg created Dogme 95, a radical film movement that intended to strip cinema of the technical effects that it was becoming reliant on.
UNDERSTANDING DOGME 95 RULES
Inside the insanity of Dogme 95
We’re going to analyze Dogme 95 by looking at the movement’s Manifesto and the Vow of Chastity, then we’ll break down the most important films. But before that, let’s quickly define Dogme 95.
DOGME 95 DEFINITION
What is Dogme 95?
Dogme 95 is a Danish film movement that was popularized by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. The purpose of Dogme 95 is to bring filmmaking back to its simplest roots; to avoid the trappings of mainstream filmmaking like excessive special effects and sensationalist plots. This is achieved by adhering to a strict set of rules referred to as the Vow of Chastity.
Dogme 95 Rules:
- To dissociate the filmmaker from the film.
- To make a film seem more organic and true to life.
- To rid filmmaking of tired and soulless conventions.
Dogme 95 Rules List
What is the Vow of Chastity?
To achieve the purposes of the movement, the founders of Dogme 95 created the Vow of Chastity — a set of rules that guided both the practical and creative considerations of their films in a major way.
This next video does a great job of showing how Dogme 95 films conform to rules set forth in the Vow of Chastity.
Vows of Chastity • Films of Dogme 95
VOWS OF CHASTITY Definition
full list of Dogme 95 rules
- Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
- The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
- The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
- The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
- Optical work and filters are forbidden.
- The film must not contain superficial action (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur).
- Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
- Genre movies are not acceptable.
- The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
- The director must not be credited.
The Vow of Chastity puts filmmakers at an extreme disadvantage. Without these essential elements, it becomes a massive creative challenge to the filmmakers — and that's the point.
Now that we’ve defined Dogme 95 and the Vows of Chastity, let’s jump into some film examples!
The First Dogme 95 Films
Dogme #1 — Festen
The first official Dogme 95 film produced was in 1998, three years after the founding of the movement. Festen is a dark comedy-drama from Thomas Vinterberg dealing with a family reunion that reveals a powerful and dark family secret. Here's Vinterberg talking about the experience of making the film and the legacy it left behind.
Thomas Vinterberg on Festen
Festen is widely regarded as one of the best films of the Dogme 95 movement, yet at the same time, it proved that the hurdles set by the Vow of Chastity were incredibly difficult to conform to.
Festen proved to be a huge success by winning the Jury Prize at Cannes 1998. Here’s what Vinterberg had to say about the process of using the Dogme 95 rules while making Festen:
“[Dogme 95] gave me the courage to be absolutely consequential emotionally when writing this. I thought if I don’t have any music, if I don’t have anything, I have to keep the audience engaged with the story every second.”
The First Dogme 95 Films
Dogme #2 — The Idiots
Calling Lars von Trier’s The Idiots a radical experiment is an understatement. If Vinterberg’s Festen represented an “out of the box” approach to filmmaking, then The Idiots was out of this galaxy.
Behind the Scenes • The Idiots
The film follows a group of adults who mimic the disabled as a sort of “social rebellion.” The Idiots was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 1998, despite being met with widespread criticism upon release.
In the years since release, von Trier has admitted that several elements of The Idiots’ production didn’t comply with the Dogme 95 rules, such as using a stand-in actor and interfering with sources of light.
Two films in and it was clear that the Vow of Chastity simply wasn't feasible to comply with entirely.
Dogme 95 Films
Dogme #12 — Italian for Beginners
Italian for Beginners is one of the best films of the movement. The film deftly blends drama and comedy, all the while making strong use of the Vow of Chastity.
Italian for Beginners • Trailer
The Dogme 95 Manifesto is meant to make filmmaking as simple as possible; the end result is meant to find the innate nature of a story. Italian for Beginners makes true on this intention by making the characters the sole intention of the film.
The End of Dogme 95
What happened to Dogme 95?
There are 35 official Dogme 95 films in total, but countless other films were inspired by the movement. Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg have moved on to other experimental works, but both have remained at the forefront of Danish cinema.
We have to look at the landscape of World cinema in the 1990’s to really understand the importance of Dogme 95. The Hollywood New Wave was over and blockbusters had begun to dominate the American market. The Parallel Cinema movement of India proved that it wasn’t financially sustainable. Throughout Europe, the Arts Movement was coming to an end with the deaths or retirements of movement leaders like Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, and Francois Truffaut.
This is all to say that the film industry was going in a more commercial direction all around the globe. The Dogme 95 movement sought to change the course of cinema, and miraculously, it did.
INFLUENCE OF DOGME 95 ON FILM TODAY
Where is the movement today?
The ripples of Dogme 95 can still be felt in the world of cinema today. The movement’s influence continues to have a profound impact on the global filmmaking community even though fewer and fewer “official” Dogme films are being made.
Here’s director Patrick Ireland talking about how he’s been inspired by the Dogme 95 movement.
What Inspires Filmmakers
Elsewhere, we can see how the tenets of Dogme 95 have influenced low-budget filmmaking. Today, millions and millions of people have phone cameras that are capable of shooting movies.
A great example of this maxim put into use is Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a film that was shot entirely on the iPhone 5s.
Sean Baker on filming Tangerine
In talking about Tangerine’s development, Baker said: “We had to shoot the film by any means necessary.” This process often involved shooting wherever and whenever was allowed. This independent, DIY spirit is clearly a holdover from radical movements like Dogme 95.
DOGME 95 FEMINIST THEORY AND LEGACY
The legacy of Dogme 95
Dogme 95 proved to be liberating for some female directors like Susanne Bier (Open Hearts) and Natasha Arthy (Old, New, Borrowed and Blue.)
Open Hearts • Mads Mikkelsen Clip
Ironically, these works have been largely overshadowed by the “star power” of von Trier and Vinterberg, despite one of the maxims of the movement being “The director must not be credited.”
Additionally, Dogme 95 has been a massive influence on Danish culture, as the idea of bringing filmmaking back to its origin seemed to inspire other artists to pursue the same through their own mediums.
Film movements are defined by the subjectivity of their qualities but this movement couldn’t be more objective. That being said, the Dogme 95 rules proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The movement did achieve its goal of bringing filmmaking back to its roots, but it came at the cost of consumer and, oftentimes, creative interest.
Even the film’s founders struggled to adhere to the Vow of Chastity, which ultimately ended the movement. Still, it’s hard to ignore the impact of one the strangest and radical movements in cinema history.
A Quick History of Film Noir
Believe it or not, Film Noir was once considered a radical film movement, just like Dogme 95. In this article, we'll trace the roots of the Film Noir style back to its origins — which are probably not what you think they are. Then, we'll cover the history of the movement through the decades with iconic examples including The Maltese Falcon to Mulholland Dr.
Up Next: What is Film Noir? →
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