Let’s be clear from the off: this witty, and provocative dissection of American gun culture may be directed by Thomas Vinterberg (‘Festen’, ‘It’s All About Love’), but it has the paw-prints of its writer, Lars von Trier, all over it. There’s the setting of Electric Park Square, a timeless corner of America seemingly borrowed from many a Western and reminiscent of the one-location stages of von Trier’s recent Brechtian experiments, ‘Dogville’ and ‘Manderlay’. There are the concerns for state-building, law-making and how communities are easily corruptible. And there’s the finger-pointing at America and its values, even though Vinterberg himself has denied that the film is ‘anti-American’. Vinterberg, though, lends ‘Dear Wendy’ a lighter, more youthful touch than von Trier’s recent films. He allies the story of Dick (Jamie Bell), an unexceptional late-teenager whose life is transformed by the purchase of a second-hand gun (‘Wendy’), to the cultish music of The Zombies and invests in more realism than von Trier ever would (although it remains a heightened, allegorical tale). Dick’s new-found love of firearms has a strange, initially benign effect: he forms a small, underground group of similar ‘losers’ who meet in a disused mine and together embrace the technology and power of guns but swear never to brandish them in public. They declare themselves pacificists and call themselves ‘The Dandies’. The flowering of their individual identities is the high point of the film: Vinterberg wallows in rituals, costumes and music to raise the lives of each of them from the mundane to the sublime. The effect is to witness the birth of a modern nation – a nation built on shaky ground. The inevitable fall-out is neatly mapped, if not quite as stimulating. There are echoes of von Trier’s latest feature, ‘Manderlay’ (released in November) when Dick reluctantly accepts an African-American, Sebastian (Danso Gordon) into the fold and reacts with envy to his easy way with women and guns. Von Trier admirably (and topically) touches on our fear of the ‘other’, but the debate feels unresolved. The ending is worthy of Peckinpah, but never indulgent. And is it ‘anti-American’? It’s a phrase which, to me, has all the complexity of Bush’s ‘You are either with us or against us’ mantra. Cynical, questioning and lively? Without doubt.
|Release date:||Friday August 5 2005|
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Lars von Trier|