Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bornedal’s I Am Dina

I Am Dina
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Vanguard Cinema

Reportedly, Gérard Depardieu shipped 500 bottles of his vineyard’s wine to Kjerringøy, Norway during the filming of Ole Bornedal’s I Am Dina (trailer here). One can see why he might need the fortification. His character has a very difficult time adjusting to married life with Dina, the title character of Bornedal’s tempestuous historical drama, now on DVD.

Dina is not a traditional Nineteenth Century Norwegian homemaker. She has issues stemming from a traumatic childhood. After setting in motion the accident that would kill her mother, she is violently spurned by her father. Dina grows up as a wild child, almost completely lacking parental love, except when visited by her mother’s silent ghost. However, Lorch, the tutor reluctantly hired by her father, finds he can reach the nearly feral Dina through the music of his cello.

As Dina grows into womanhood, her passionate spirit captures the eye of Jacob, a prosperous businessman played by Depardieu. When he asks for her hand in marriage, her estranged father is only too happy to be rid of her. After a rocky start, Dina actually acclimates quite well to marriage essentially taking control of Jacob’s business and household. However, her forceful nature eventually pushes him away, indirectly leading to his death as well.

As one character remarks, when visiting Dina, he “always feels death close by.” Like the Mills Brothers song, she always kills the ones she loves. She has fallen into a pernicious cycle that complicates every one of her personal and familial relationships, including her problematic romance with the mysterious Leo Zhukovsky, an anarchist revolutionary or perhaps just a con man.

Bornedal is one of the most visually exciting directors working in film today. Together with his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Dan Laustsen, he has crafted a stylish looking film that makes particularly effective use of the striking but lonely natural backdrop of Norway’s fjords. It is easy to see how an emotionally vulnerable person could lose their sense of self in such an environment.

As an English language Dutch-Norwegian co-production with Scandinavian, French, and British actors, Dina is sort of a European mélange. There are some excellent supporting performances though, particularly from Søren Sætter-Lassen as the kindly but haunted Lorch, who has an unforgettable posthumous voice-over. Christopher Eccleston, of Doctor Who fame, also conveys a certain dangerous charm as Zhukovsky. As Dina, Marie Bonnevie is totally convincing in her scenes of wild fury, but conversely, it is difficult to understand her magical allure.

Bornedal seems to be incapable of making a dull movie. While his style might ultimately prove better suited to a tricky noir thriller like Just Another Love Story, it is still fascinating to see him take on a sweeping period drama like Dina. Decidedly adult in its sensibilities, Dina is darkly compelling cinema from one of Europe’s best contemporary directors.