Dir. Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark/Sweden/ Norway/Germany/ France/UK, 2005, 101 mins
Cast: Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman, Novella Nelson, Alison Pill, Danso Gordon
Dear Wendy, an allegory about America's love affair with the gun, is an interesting collaboration between colleagues of the Dogme school with Thomas Vinterberg directing a screenplay by his mentor, Lars Von Trier. It will be very interesting to see how this totally European film, financed from all over Europe, shot in Denmark and Germany, and written by a man famously sceptical about American values, even though he has never set foot in the country, is received when it opens in the United States in the autumn.
The story is set in a poor mining town in the American South East. Dick (Bell), a teenager who has refused to become a miner like his father, lives alone after his father dies. Watched over by the protective Clarabelle (Nelson), he lives a solitary life, until Susan (Pill), who becomes his friend, introduces him by chance to "Dear Wendy", a pearl handled handgun, which they find in a second hand shop and which becomes the love of his life. Together with a handful of other disaffected teenagers, they form a secret society of declared 'pacifists with guns' all wedded to their weapons, who call themselves the Dandies, and who meet secretly in a deserted mine shaft to practice their shooting skills in the context of elegant rituals.
Conflict enters the group when Clarabelle's delinquent grandson Sebastian (Gordon) is forced into Dick's guardianship by the local sheriff (Pullman). Sebastian covets "Wendy" for himself. And when the group decide to help Clarabelle, housebound by fear of imagined street gangs, to venture out to visit her sister, pacifist principles fly out of the window in an effectively shocking way. He who lives by the gun, dies by the gun.
In style the film is an interesting mixture of staginess and realism. The town itself looks like a movie set, uninhabited apart from the main characters. In form it is an extended love letter to his beloved Wendy, read voice over by Dick. Pullman as the sheriff is a deliberately one-dimensional bully, whose typical American cop overkill creates the escalation of an impressively staged final shoot out in the true Western tradition. The young actors are all convincing, led by Bell, always an engaging performer, who manages a convincing accent to match his American co-stars.
It certainly has the virtue of originality, though it is sometimes a touch contrived. Von Trier's European distrust of a nation, which enshrines the right to bear arms in its constitution and claims the role of world peace-keeper, while at the same time waging war, comes over perhaps too obviously. But the argument that he who carries a gun will inevitably at some point use it, borne out by the recent tragic shooting by the police here in London of an innocent man mistaken for a terrorist, is unanswerable.
Carol Allen, August 2005
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