Dear Wendy Thomas Vinterberg

Anyone familiar with the Dogme 95 movement will know what can happen when Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier team up for a film - a whirlwind of sadism, confusion and bleakness. Directed by Vinterberg and written by Von Trier, Dear Wendy doesn't quite follow the rules they helped establish and enforce years ago but it does give an example of what can happen when a few million are poured into one of their productions and they basically break some of their own "rules." Set in small-town America (but actually filmed in Copenhagen), the film tells the story of a group of dense yet eager teenagers who unite as a club of gun-toting pacifists called the Dandies. Though it reeks of inevitable violence, the film's obsession with guns actually works for the most part without resorting to carnage. The Dandies spend their time studying the art and essence of their weapons, even naming them (yes, Wendy is a gun), and providing pertinent information about such things as marksmanship, exit wounds and strange rituals (i.e., tying a leather strap around the testicles). However, as we've learned before, no one lives happily ever after and one mistake places the gang into a whole heap of trouble. The final third of the film transcends practicality and it feels like everything has been fooled with to escape a sense of reality. Dear Wendy is far from a conventional film; even when it feels like it is delving into normalcy, Von Trier's script throws in a nonsensical line to keep it off balance. The performances are all wonderfully carried out. Jamie Bell, who continues to make interesting choices since Billy Elliott, delivers as the Dandies' unofficial engrossed leader, Dick, while Bill Pullman is magnificent as a daft, sociable sheriff. Of course, many will look to Von Trier's screenplay as yet another criticism of U.S. culture and its obsession with guns, but when the man's analysis about such a problem is so accurate, especially in relation to the recent disastrous events in New Orleans, it's hard to peg him as an unjustified cynic. Recommended to those who know what they're getting into and those who like pleasant surprises. (TVA)