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New Left Review 2, March-April 2000


Taking up John Roberts’s account of the new Danish cinema, Tabish Khair argues that Von Trier’s films share with Benigni’s prize-puller rotations between the playful and the real, stock tropes of the postmodern.

TABISH KHAIR

THE IDEOLOGY OF PLAY

John Roberts has said much of relevance in his acute assessment of Dogme 95. [1] John Roberts, ‘Dogme 95’, NLR 238, November–December 1999. Still, he is not quite free of one error to which all reviewers of Von Trier’s films seem to have been prone. He has by and large accepted Von Trier’s claim that he is innocent of theory, and Dogme 95’s ideology of ‘no-ideology’. Simple things first. If we consider Festen (The Party) and Mifune to be Dogme 95 films—as Roberts and others do—then the Dogme 95 Manifesto is not just technical, formal and unpolitical in character (as Roberts rightly notes), it must also be regarded as non-binding, for between them Mifune and Festen break almost every one of its rules—with the single exception of the unstated rule to shun any political statement. Actually, while competently made, Festen and Mifune are mainstream cinematic fare for the once-softly-radical-now-comfortably-bourgeois-and-postcommunist citizens of our high capitalist times. Reduced to its thematic core, what is Festen but a complex soap opera; and what is Mifune but the thinking man’s Pretty Woman?

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