KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — Several years ago, Danish helmer Lars von Trier and a few of his fellow Scandi filmmakers changed Euro film history with their Dogma movement and its Vow of Chastity.
Eschewing mainstream filmmaking staples such as artificial lighting and sound, film scores and any plots that include guns, the vow served to energize European cinema by proving less is more. It posited that you could export Euro films if, instead of attempting to ape the Hollywood blockbusters, you embraced the budgetary limitations and artistic-minded history of Euro cinema.
Well, it was a good idea for a while.
But I’ve been watching Euro films at film festivals all over Europe, including the Karlovy Vary fest, and while the vow was once a welcome stimulant as well as an effective marketing gimmick, the greatest danger to Euro cinema now isn’t the corruptive influence of technology. Nor is it “Dirty Harry’s” pal, the .44 Magnum.
It’s the still-prevalent willingness to break the first rule of filmmaking: Thou Shalt Not Bore.
The films in Karlovy Vary that hold to that truism are drawing enthusiastic young crowds. Twisted Belgian road pic “Aaltra” and sweet Spanish comedy “Astronauts” are two of the films that work as both creative expression and audience-involving entertainment.
There are too many examples of pics in the fest that violate the rule to mention here — as there are in every fest from Cannes to Locarno — so, rather than the cite the guilty for propagating art film cliches, inducing torpor and setting back the cause of European cinema, I offer my own vow.
To guide young Euro filmmakers onto the path of artistic righteousness and total box office of more than 1,000 admissions, I present the Vow of Impurity:
1. Thou shalt have no plots involving goats, loss thereof, usage as symbols of decadence or fertility or as romantic partners, nostalgic childhood pals or sole friend of aged reflective shepherds.
2. Thou shalt have no hopeless heroin-addicted sons, daughters, cousins, lovers, fathers, mothers or brothers.
3. Thou shalt write no stories about dysfunctional families in dead-end circumstances rife with teen angst unleavened by humor, insight or any point of view other than that of the hopeless heroin-addicted characters from rule 2.
4. Thou shalt not dwell photographically for more than 10 seconds upon rolling, glistening fields of hops; a pomegranate; a smeary, depressing sunset; a swarm of bees; a dead goat; or an aged reflective shepherd.
5. Thou shalt not populate thy film with wise idiots, lonesome donkeys, spiritual roosters or existentially troubled bears. Unless, as the European actress said about the nude scene, it’s absolutely required by the plot.