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Dear Wendy

Jamie Bell, the young actor who charmed audiences with his lead performance in Billy Elliott, grows up significantly in Thomas Vinterbergs Dear Wendy (opening October 7 at Landmarks Hillcrest Cinemas).

Thomas Vinterberg may be best known for his association with fellow Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier. In 1995, Von Trier and Vinterberg proclaimed their disgust with the state of contemporary cinema by launching Dogem95, a film movement whose rules were laid in a document known as The Vow of Chastity. To win Dogme95 certification, a film had to shoot on location, use natural lighting, and abstain from the use of props and superficial action among other things. The extremity of their movement garnered considerable attention. But now, more than a decade later, interest in the movement has waned and the filmmakers themselves have abandoned their vow of chastity. Von Trier boldly defied it with Dogville, and now Vinterberg does the same with Dear Wendy.

The filmmakers claim that they never meant their rules to last a lifetime; they just set them out as an experiment and had always intended to move beyond them. Two of the commandments that Vinterberg most defiantly breaks in Dear Wendy are to employ pop music continuously on the soundtrack, and to use murders and weapons. In fact, his film is all about kids and weapons.


The film begins with Dick (Jamie Bell) writing a letter that begins with Dear Wendy. We assume Wendy is a girl but we soon discover its a gun that Dick happens upon. He bought it thinking it was a toy but then Stevie (Mark Webber), an introverted co-worker, explains to him that its a real gun and something of an antique. Dick and Stevie start up a little club they call the Dandies and fancy themselves pacifists with guns. Possessing the guns gives them a confidence they never had before. Soon they expand their circle to include a few more social outcasts from the neighborhood. They set up house in an abandoned mine, and practice shooting in their makeshift, underground shooting range. They insist, however, that they must never fire these guns in the real world. But of course we know that they cannot keep their promise.

Vinterberg directs from a script by Lars Von Trier. The result feels like a failed experimentinteresting in its design and line of inquiry, but ultimately failing to prove anything or to even formulate an interesting hypothesis. The world Vinterberg creates is only moderately more realistic than the one Von Trier designed on a near barren stage for Dogville. The nameless, timeless American town is strangely empty, the kids start dressing in costumes from different time periods, and characters talk in affected speech. Vinterberg never intends this to the real world but to stand in for it. Von Trierwhos a much bolder, provocative filmmaker than Vinterbergsucceeded in creating such a symbolic reality in Dogville precisely because he was willing to push his artifice further and make it an overt challenge to viewers. But Vinterberg dallies on less dangerous ground, and for taking fewer risks, he reaps fewer rewards.

Von Trier openly taunts and provokes American audiences by criticizing certain American values and conventions. Vinterberg seems to want to do the same, but again his lack of true audacity makes his film less effective. Its as if hes mouthing Von Triers criticisms without feeling the full conviction of his beliefs. The descent into violence in the small town of Dear Wendy, serves as a commentary on violence in America. But it lacks power and punch. David Cronenbergs A History of Violence offers a far more potent and artistically clever meditation on a similar subject.

Dear Wendy has some fine acting and moments of interest but in the end it remains too self-conscious in its design and intent.