26 June 2011

Dear Wendy

"It's either a one or a five," have you heard people say that? I've heard people say that. It means the person both loves and hates the movie. What kind of movie do you both love and hate? Thomas Vinterberg's Dear Wendy is the first movie I've seen that I would rate either a one or a five.

Dear Wendy is about five or so pacifist teenagers who form a group, which they name The Dandies, in order to cultivate their romantic interest in firearms.

It's a Danish Southern movie: the movie takes place on a Copenhagen set that, in broad strokes, is a stand-in for West Virginia. I'm not sure how this image of the American south gestated in the minds of screenwriter Lars von Trier and director Vinterberg, but the films of David Gordon Green were likely influences. Star Jamie Bell had appeared in Green's Undertow the previous year. It's kind of a drunk Dane's American fever dream, and really the film takes place in, and feels like the product of, the imagination of its creators. This is the film's problem, and also why it's sometimes fun and sometimes works as a comedic satire. You just have to detach yourself from reality, in order to have a better look back on it.

Aside from Bell, whose Tintin performance I eagerly await, Alison Pill (Kim Pine in Scott Pilgrim, Anne Kronenberg in Milk) and Mark Webber (Stephen Stills in Scott Pilgrim) offer luminous performances, and Bill Pullman plays some kind of oblivious sheriff. But it sort of feels like none of them are acting in the same movie. I couldn't build real connections with them, or consider them as real people. Danso Gordon has a great role because his job is to express bewilderment at the ridiculous gun worshipping and strange ritualization.

Vinterberg and Von Trier want to probe delicate issues in outrageous ways. I'm not sure why. The film is darkly absurd, hyperbolically humorous. Bell narrates in v.o., reading from a love letter written to his gun, which is named Wendy. Dear Wendy = Dear My Gun. A moment of jealousy over the handling of Wendy initiates a conflict that ends with death.

Vinterberg (from dvd interview): "...it is possible to study weapons, and know all about weapons, and shoot in the dark against some targets, and become experts, to obtain knowledge of something, without getting violent. You can say, 'They do shoot policeman and so on.' Yeah, but they only do that because fear enters the picture. Clarabelle is dumb enough to shoot a policeman because she is scared. It's not until ... I mean you can see them as gunpowder, there must be a spark for it to explode. In its clean form, which is how The Dandies worship it, it is merely obtaining knowledge, just like when Lars studies how the Nazis lived and so on. I cannot see anything wrong with that. There is nothing dangerous in that. It is not until you mix it with impurities like lust for power, lust for enrichment, fear and emotions like that. Which are universally human ... feelings."

The Dandies, pacifists, carry their guns ("partners") for "moral support," and one of their rules is that their partners shouldn't be brandished. But the end of the movie is a shootout. Vinterberg gets to make his point and have his fun, and he's not ignorant about the contradiction (officially there is no agenda or moral). He knows the fun he has sabotages the seriousness of his movie, but he's fine with that. As a filmmaker he isn't tormented by human messiness or paradoxes. He makes big bets on the wrong hands - think of it like poker - he makes big bets on the wrong hands, and this causes all the serious players to be like "Hahaha" and "He's not very good," but Vinterberg sees poker as just a game and thinks playing by the rules is boring and means predictable results. He's lighting the Queen of Spades on fire and sticking chips up his dirty asshole. Some people are leaving the table. Vinterberg doesn't care about the table, or he doesn't take it very seriously.

Which is why I love and hate the movie. It's like, think of movies as like a party, you know how some parties are utterly boring and there's some too-drunk person who's making a big mess of things and you're personally thinking "Why did I even come to this party?" and the next day someone asks you about the party and you say "It was awful, so-and-so was doing..." and you describe intolerable, egregious behaviors. And a couple months later all you remember about the party is that one too-drunk person. The movie is like that I guess.

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