Anthony Dod Mantle
Breaking the Waves' filmmaker Lars von Trier is the theorist-architect behind the Dogma '95 oath, the filmmaker responsible for swearing allegiance to an anti-special effects cinema of handheld camera, available lighting, diegetic music and sync sound, and actors costumed in their own clothes on sets which are real, untampered-with locales. However, when in 1998 Trier actually made a Dogma film, it was a dog of a film, the still unreleased-in-America inanity (I suffered through it at Cannes) called The Idiots.
But the Dogma principals have worked splendidly in the right hands. Give all credit to Anthony Dod Mantle, the formidably talented British cinematographer who has photographed all three of the essential Dogma-driven films: Harmony Korine's Julien Donkey-Boy, which shows March 10-12 at the Harvard Film Archive; Soren Kragh-Jacobsen's Mifune, which opens March 17 at the Coolidge Corner; and Thomas Vintenberg's The Celebration, the Dogma movement's one indisputable classic.
sAt the Nortel Palm Springs Film Festival in January, Mantle sat through The Celebration with the audience, and he confessed that he had been moved anew, seeing the 1998 film for the first time in several years. Mantle shot it handheld with a digital camera, and adhering to Trier's Dogma tenets.
"There are ten rules to be precise," Mantle said when we talked, his first American interview. "It was written by Lars on impulse, an explosion out of his heart, a retaliation against an elaborate kind of cinema. Dogma is about naked storytelling. What he asked for is interesting but not easy for a cinematographer. I have a traditional camera training, and it was like taking my palette away from me. But it was fun. I wouldn't have said 'Yes' if it wasn't a kind of game.
"For The Celebration, I let my conventional lighting go and thought instead about emotional movement. I wanted to become one of the witnesses, to react as if I were an actor in the drama. One of the characters, Christian, tries to find truth in the middle of lies and deceptions. I wanted to commemorate his search: mine was an agile Darwinian camera. As the family slowly disintegrates, I wanted my emulsion to organically decompose."
A Darwinist? "It sounds snobbish, but I mean it," Mantle said, "The Celebration was one of the most aggressive films I've ever been on. I wanted to let off steam with my cinematography. I'm a camera caveman at heart."
Trained as a still photographer in England, Mantle went to the National Film School in Copenhagen in cinematography. "I had a very strange but short-lived relationship with a Danish woman, and a year-and-a-half of learning the Danish language. There must have been a reason for it." It's allowed him to make fiction films and also documentaries with top-line Danish directors, including Trier. He spent New Year's Eve 2000 shooting for Trier a live interactive, 70-minute TV program, actors and fireworks over Copenhagen, which was broadcast simultaneously on seven Danish TV channels.
Mantle also operated the camera for the dance sequences in Trier's non-Dogma new movie, Dancer in the Dark, pairing Bjork and Catharine Deneuve. "It's an amazing digital film which will destroy Cannes," Mantle predicted. Recently, he shot the Gus Van Sant section of an in-progress three-part movie scripted by Harmony Korine. "Gus told me when we met he'd seen The Celebration and it changed his life. He'd been smelling it," Mantle said, proudly. "And, when we were in Poland, Mike Leigh gave me a handshake and said he was a great admirer of Dogma.
"The filmmakers and projects I'm drawn to are where I suspect cinema can come to its full force. I do believe cinema is potentially the greatest art film, that the frame line is metaphysical. Though when the lights come down, how disappointing on screen when it's the same old fucking shot."