Mifunes sidste sang (Mifune)

Directed by Søren Kragh-Jacobsen (uncredited as per The Dogme95 Vow of Chastity)
Starring: Iben Hjejle, Anders W. Berthelsen, Jesper Asholt, Emil Tarding, Anders Hove, Sofie Gråbøl.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and language, and for some violence.

Review by Matt Heffernan
April 4, 2000

In 1995, a group of Danish filmmakers wrote up a manifesto decrying the excesses of modern film studios. They put forth a certification for films that were made without any lighting, props, sets, or anything that was not found on location. The directors cannot receive screen credit, and must take a "vow of chastity" (which can be read here, on the Dogme95 website). A monastic approach to filmmaking is a refreshing thing (even The Blair Witch Project is too heavily produced for their standards), and the first certified films are now being seen in America. The first one, Festen (The Celebration), opened to great acclaim, and now the third one is finding distribution stateside.

Kresten Jensen (Anders W. Berthelsen) is a successful Copenhagen businessman, who has just married his boss' daughter (Sofie Gråbøl). The morning after their wedding, he receives a call that his father has died. He has to leave the city for the family farm, where his mentally challenged brother, Rud (Jesper Asholt), is now living alone. Kresten has been estranged from his family for ten years, but he needs to see the neglected farmhouse cleaned and repaired, and his brother properly taken care of.

He moves in, and hires a housekeeper. Taking the job is Liva (Iben Hjejle), a call girl who has fled the city after being harassed by an obscene phone caller. When she first arrives, Kresten is trying to cheer up Rud by playing "Mifune" -- a game in which he pretends to find Toshiro Mifune in the cellar, and emerges wearing a pot on his head, with gloves attached to the sides (a reasonable facsimile for a samurai helmet). She stays, despite the mad spectacle, and finds both brothers charming in different ways.

Within the constraints of Dogme95, director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen (who only takes co-writing credit on screen) creates a pleasing romantic comedy with some very serious undertones. The plot may sound a bit like a combination of Rain Man and Pretty Woman (although Liva is more the Belle de Jour type of girl), it eschews any Hollywood conventions of how these stories should be told. At times, however, this minimalist style is a detraction to the pace and accessibility of the film.

The true highlight is the performance of Asholt, who puts Dustin Hoffman to shame. I thought he was really handicapped when I first saw him -- until I realized that I had seen him in other things. His character never comes off as a gimmick, nor is he really played for cheap laughs. Just as impressive is the way that Hjejle handles the interraction between Liva and Rud. Her manner is constantly believable, held up by a performance of great subtlety.

But will this be the end of Dogme filmmaking for Hjejle? This week, she makes her American debut in High Fidelity, which was produced by Disney -- a far cry from a camera and a farmhouse. I look forward to seeing more films from this group. I think that once the initial shock of such minimalism wears off, it could really grow on me, and possibly many other Americans.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Mifunes sidste sang (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Mifune (1999) - English subtitles -- VHS
Mifune (1999) -- DVD

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan