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This dark Danish Dogma film has plenty of bite.

Tasty Danish


You would never guess from the title, but "Mifune" turns out to be a fresh, fast-paced Danish comedy rather than a venerable film homage to the late, great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. But this tasty treat, written and directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, has more than a few surprises of its own, not the least of which is its cinematic heritage.

As a member of the Danish film collective known as Dogma 95, Kragh-Jacobsen supposedly ascribes to the group's mandated 10 filmmaking strictures. Both the collective and its cinematic tenets are the brainchild of Lars Von Triers, best known here for "Breaking the Waves."

Essentially vows of artistic chastity, these tenets are dedicated to the notion of "pure cinema," movies where nothing artificial — not even the director's perspective or style — is allowed to blemish the basics of the process. In other words, no real scripts, no rehearsals, no background music and no special effects. What's left for the director to use? Hand-held cameras, natural light and ambient sound.

Perhaps the closest the average American moviegoer has come to a Dogma 95-type film would be last year's "The Blair Witch Project." After all the hype died down, most moviegoers didn't enjoy "Blair Witch" because it lacked a script, a score, special effects and a steady-cam. Although shot with the same "raw" approach of the Danish mandates, "The Blair Witch Project," is not considered officially a Dogma 95 film.

Now here's the interesting part: "Mifune" is considered a Dogma 95 film even though it breaks some of the rules. Not the least of which is that it was completely scripted, rehearsed and underscored with music. Despite his less than dogmatic adherence to his co-workers' manifesto, Kragh-Jacobsen does capture the raw spontaneity the group professes. "Mifune" does have a kind of edgy, home-movie feel to it that fits Kragh-Jacobsen's tale about an odd assortment of premillennium types who've been corrupted by society and come together to form their own version of a family.

Set in Copenhagen, "Mifune" opens with the ambitious and supposedly orphaned yuppie Kersten (Anders W. Berthelsen) tying the knot with his boss' daughter Claire (Sofie Garbol). The honeymoon gets off to a loudly fulfilling start but is interrupted by a phone call. It seems his father has died. His father? Wait a minute, says his new wife. Yes, admits Kersten as he scurries off to the rural island of Lolland to take care of matters. Not only did he have a family, it seems his mother hanged herself from one of the oldest trees in Denmark, and he has a mentally challenged brother (Jesper Asholt) who'll need to be taken care of now.

When he gets home, brother Rud is hysterical and needs calming down. To help quiet his frightened and grieving brother, Kersten plays a game from their childhood in which he pretends to be Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune in "The Seven Samurai." Not only does the game calm Rud down, it also explains to the audience the meaning of the movie's silly title.

Realizing he neither wants to nor can he be responsible for his brother, Kersten advertises for a maid. Enter Liva ("High Fidelity's" Iben Hjejle), a prostitute who does whatever's necessary to send her adolescent brother to a high-class boarding school. But when she insults a client who turns out to be the dean of that posh prep school and discovers she's got a nasty stalker on her case, Liva opts for a change of scenery.

When Liva answers Kersten's ad, we see immediately that these two consummate liars are made for each other. They both even have brothers who need them. When Liva's boarding school brother shows up, their offbeat family is complete. But his arrival also signals the beginning of the end as everything starts to go wrong.

The acting in "Mifune" is particularly strong, and Hjejle makes a much more favorable impression here than in "High Fidelity." Sweet, sexy and smart, she's a perfect match for Kersten's ambitious prevaricator.

Unlike its Dogma 95 predecessors, "Mifune" is neither self-congratulatory nor self-conscious of its hand-held camerawork or natural lighting, giving credence to the conclusion that those tenets may be more than a cinematic stunt. With the delightful though dark "Mifune," Kragh-Jacobsen shows that Dogma strictures can co-exist with fresh, lively tales that eschew Scandinavian doom and gloom.

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