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Dear Wendy (2005)

One shot is all it takes.

Directed by:

Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 101 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: Germany, Denmark, France, United Kingdom

In the dusty town of Estherslope, young Dick (Jamie Bell) has no parents, no friends, no self-confidence, and no desire to work in the mines like everyone else. Yet upon discovering that a tiny antique pistol in his possession is no toy, Dick gathers other town misfits and ‘losers’ around him and forms a secret pacifist gun club called the Dandies. Meeting in an abandoned mine, sporting old-fashioned costumes, quaffing port and building up proficiency with their firearms (referred to as ‘partners’ and each given a person’s name), the Dandies swear never to show off publicly or ‘wake up’ their guns – but when Sheriff Krugsby (Bill Pullman) asks Dick to look after Sebastian (Danso Gordon), who is on probation for shooting someone (“it wasn’t necessarily my fault”), old enmities, jealousy, machismo and self-righteousness propel the Dandies towards consummating the act for which they have been destined from the moment they first picked up their partners.

Some nine years after Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg penned the Dogme 95 Manifesto whose ten ‘Vows of Chastity’ included a strict ban on the use of guns as props in films, it seems only fitting that the maverick Danes’ first feature collaboration, ‘Dear Wendy’, should be fully loaded with pistols and rifles. Written by Von Trier and directed by Vinterberg, the film is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of America’s long love affair with the gun, as well as a satirical critique of the West’s paradoxical claims to be a well-armed bringer of peace. All this is wrapped up in a zero-to-hero coming-of-age tale whose smalltown whimsy has an unexpectedly powerful recoil. And while it is, like Von Trier’s Dogville and his forthcoming ‘Manderlay’, a very American story filmed entirely outside of the US, Von Trier’s usual barebones rancor is fleshed out and humanised under Vinterberg’s direction, so that you barely notice how true to its target it is until you have hit the floor.

The versatile Jamie ‘Billy Elliot’ Bell, these days seemingly in every second film (and with good reason), transforms the suitably phallic-named protagonist into a complicated monster, on the one hand just a vulnerable young dreamer, on the other a passive-aggressive little Napoleon with quietly racist tendencies. He is well supported by the ensemble cast – but perhaps the true star of the piece is cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, whose subdued browns and sepia tones, like the Dandies’ outmoded costumes and vintage weapons, lull viewers into thinking they are watching a period oater – with only the occasional sign of modernity to rupture the illusion and expose the direct legacy, measurable in bullets, that leads from wild west showdowns to urban gangland shootouts. It is a myth of questionable heroism and futile self-sacrifice that is as American as apple pie – except that it is Danish.

Add to this a perfectly integrated soundtrack of songs by ‘The Zombies’, some subtle commentary on America’s race relations, a town square reduced to trajectory diagrams, and some increasingly dark surrealism, and you are looking down the barrel of a film with a very high calibre.

It's Got: A bizarre love triangle, a surreal townsquare standoff, and a whole lot of guns.

It Needs: Kevlar.

Alternatives:

Bullet Ballet, Dogville, Full Metal Jacket, Gun Crazy, Young Guns

Summary

This satirical love letter to America's gun culture has a very high calibre.

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