far-from-the-madding-crowdThomas Vinterberg first made waves in the cinematic community when he co-founded the Dogma 95 movement in 1995.  He backed up the movement’s “vows of chastity” with the 1998 critical darling The Celebration which premiered to rave reviews at Cannes.  The film utilized the rules of the Dogma 95 movement including the employment of hand held camera, naturalistic lighting, and an absence of special or sound effects.  The movement served as a forefront of and inspiration to the Mumblecore School of filmmaking, currently the style-de-jour on the festival circuit.  With his latest film, Far From The Madding Crowd, an adaption of Thomas Hardy’s classic of the same name, he could not be further away from his independent roots.  And that’s just the way he wants it.

“In what I do, I like to change.  I like to explore new territory.”  He explained to me over the phone.  “As I see it, that big night in Cannes in 98, without our knowledge, without us knowing it, was the end of it.  Where it all began, it all ended.”  Far From the Madding Crowd, the story of a headstrong Victorian woman, portrayed by the always charismatic Carey Mulligan, as she draws the attention of three different suitors (Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen).  It is a nuanced character study of a woman at odds with her time, and the sweeping consequences of her actions, however small they may be.

With his insistence to be continually challenged, Vinterberg allowed himself be drawn in by Hardy’s layered characters, and began to visualize the Victorian era, itself being inherently anti-Dogma.  The period piece is distinguished by its lush color scheme, reminiscent of the Technicolor days of the old studio system.  The sweeping English countryside is shot in wide screen format, using 35mm film, a far cry from the intimate frame of The Celebration, shot on digital video.  Although the subject matter may be different than Vinterberg’s past films (all set in present day), he was still attracted by the same core concepts.  “The way Hardy creates these very layered complex characters.” He explained when asked what drew him to the story.  “The way he played around with fate.  It reminded me that you cannot control life, it will ultimately control you.”  It was these themes where he found common ground and was able to approach the project with an air of familiarity, drawing from his actors naturalistic performances similar to those of his past films.

As screenwriter David Nicholls explained “He thought the reason he was hired was that he would bring a hand held camera, kind of dogma…look to the movie and I think he wanted to make a traditional wide screen conventional movie.  And actually what we ended up with was a combination of both, where the performances are natural and real and grounded and yet it also looks beautiful and has a drive and a classic feel, as well as, hopefully, feeling very modern.”

Nicholls was weary of Vinterberg’s specific mode of story telling, “It was the most challenging relationship I’ve ever had with a director” he told me, choosing his words carefully, “It was the most challenging and by far the most rewarding.”  As a self-professed literature nerd, Nicholls, who had adapted Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urberville’s for BBC, felt a sense of protection over the work of one of Britain’s most famed writers.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Vinterberg approached the novel with a healthy irreverence and was ultimately concerned that the story could stand alone as a singular piece of cinema.

In his drive to challenge himself, Vinterberg applied his shrewd story telling skills to Nicholl’s beloved Hardy and came out the other end with a solid piece of cinema.  As he leaves behind the Dogma style adopted by so many, many are interested to see how he will test his cinematic prowess next.