“Mifune” is a Dogma film, meaning it adheres to the principles set forth in 1995 by a collective of Danish filmmakers: no artificial lighting, no outside props, must be shot on location, no musical score, director doesn’t get credited, hand-held cameras are used. In other words, it has to look like a cheap movie that took no more than 10 days to film.
Whether the “Dogma 95” group (which previously inspired “The Celebration” and “The Idiots”) is as much about serious grass-roots filmmaking as it is about getting attention (how many Danish films could anyone name before these ones came out?) is open for debate. There are pluses and minuses to the bare-bones technique, and “Mifune” exhibits all of them.
Directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen (shh! don’t tell anyone!), the film begins with the wedding of successful Copenhagen businessman Kresten (Anders W. Berthelsen) and boss’s daughter Claire (Sofie Grabol). While honeymooning, Kresten gets the word that his father has died. This is a bit of a problem insofar as he had told everyone he had no family. He leaves Claire behind for a couple days and heads out to the country.
Ah, so THIS is why he lied about the family situation. Dad was a dirt-poor farmer, and younger brother Rud (Jesper Asholt) walks precariously on the movie-world line between retarded and crazy. With their father dead, Kresten has to figure out what to do with Rud. Vulgar local Gemer (Anders Hove) suggests putting him in a nuthouse, but Kresten won’t do it. Instead, he looks for a housekeeper who can double as a nanny for UFO-obsessed Rud.
As luck would have it, a prostitute back in the city named Liva (Iben Hjejle) wants out of the whoring business, what with being harassed by her mean pimp and getting threateningly weird answering-machine messages from a stalker. She leaves her gaggle of hookers and takes the housekeeping job, needing the money to put her bratty little brother Bjarke (Emil Tarding) through boarding school. Eventually, Bjarke gets kicked out and comes to live on the farm, and the conveniently spoiled and vindictive Claire, unable to deal with her husband’s redneck past (and, apparently, foreseeable future), divorces him, making Kresten, Liva, Rud and Bjarke into a kooky ready-made family!
Though Dogma forbids doing “genre” films, this is, at its heart, a romantic comedy. Liva is the standard post-“Pretty Woman” Hooker with a Heart of Gold; Kresten is the Man Who Needs to Get in Touch with His Roots who will inevitably fall in love with Liva (good thing Claire left him, huh?); Rud is a Danish “Cuckoo’s Nest” character, complete with stammering dialogue and open-mouthed leering.
Earlier, I described a character as “vulgar.” This was unfair of me, as everyone in this movie is vulgar, right down to simple-minded Rud and too-young-to-say-those-words Bjarke. The abundant sexual frankness fits the movie’s cheap-pornography look, though.
“Mifune” ranges from the amusing to the downright weird. (When Liva doesn’t like a “john,” she pees on his carpet.) The sort of things that normally help a romantic comedy actually come across as romantic — music, lighting, style — are forbidden here, which in this case hurts the film. Kragh-Jacobsen has broken the “no genre movies” rule, and it’s bitten him in the butt: The action is as predictable as anything Hollywood turns out, but it doesn’t get to benefit from the other Hollywood devices. It’s another reason why, if you’re going to follow a list of rules, you’d better follow ALL of them.
C+ (; )