The first narrative feature from Danish editor and documaker Tomas Gislason, a frequent Lars von Trier collaborator, “P.O.V. — Point of View” is long on style but short on script substance despite the surfeit of weighty themes with which it flirts superficially. Clearly a student of the Dogma school without adhering strictly to its rigorous rules, Gislason ably employs a distinctive shooting and editing style to bring edge and energy to his story. But this American road movie steeped in a naive New Age beatnik sensibility runs out of steam fast after a sharp opening and ultimately doesn’t merit the technical prowess. High scores from the San Sebastian youth jury indicate it may play well in festival lineups geared to young audiences.
As most anyone touring the fest circuit this fall will have noticed, the much-imitated Dogma aesthetic is becoming mighty tired, overused — and far too often poorly executed. But having emerged from the fringes of the manifesto’s original core group, Gislason is skilled in the technical aspects, perhaps no less so than compatriots Thomas Vinterberg and Soren Kragh Jacobsen were in far superior work like “Festen” and “Mifune.”
But unlike those films, which developed complex characters and fascinatingly volatile dramatic situations alongside the nervy technical approach, Gislason’s debut was made with 100% improvised dialogue from basic scene outlines. Unfortunately, this is all too apparent in the naivete brought to an over-reaching thematic agenda that covers anti-establishment activism, globalization, the myth of the American dream, the sham of post-hippie counterculture, the impossibility of relationships, the collapse of the family and the search for spiritual values, even throwing in some old-standard Vietnam vet damage for good measure.
The script shortcomings are especially disappointing given the intriguing quirks of the opening setup. Displaying a wry, unforced sense of humor, Gislason, who developed the story and screenplay outline with Lars Kjeldgaard, takes in the abortive Las Vegas wedding of Danish couple Kamilla (Trine Dyrholm) and Henrik (Ulrich Thomsen). Unsure of her groom’s convictions and unsatisfied by his response to her doubts, Kamilla halts the ceremony several times then abruptly flees before saying “I do,” hitching a ride across the desert on a Harley driven by enigmatic stranger Rock (Gareth Williams).
As they hit the road, the film runs into trouble. Dumped by Rock between Los Angeles and Big Sur, Kamilla is picked up by a carnival clown, whose dangerous unpredictability is telegraphed from the outset in a grotesquely overstated scene. Rescued by the biker, whose voiceovers prosaically echo Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which Kamilla is reading, the young woman continues north with him, their travels intercut with scenes of her being grilled by Seattle cops in regard to a homicide.
Endless probing goes on during the journey. Kamilla burrows beneath secretive Rock’s skin, gleaning shreds of information about his problematic personal history and radical urban-terrorist mission, while he is drawn to her spontaneity and spirit. But the characters and their relationship fail to take shape in any satisfying way and, despite the improvised approach, the conflicts feel fabricated.
As one of the cops points out during interrogation, Kamilla is a confused character who doesn’t know what she wants, and, while Dyrholm (“Festen”) has her moments early on, she is unable to bring much definition to the runaway bride. Other actors are similarly hindered by unresolved characters.
“P.O.V.” is far more consistent in technique than content. Gislason and co-lenser Mads Thomsen’s fidgety but controlled camerawork and the jumpy cutting by the director and co-editor Anders Refn give it visual punch, with the skewed, at times distorted low-angle images often saturated in glaring hot light.