Dogme doesn't hinder Dane

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      Unfortunately for the single ladies out there, actor Mads Mikkelsen is already married, but that hasn't stopped his admirers from appreciating his rugged Viking bone structure and dusty blond locks. Not only is he one of Denmark's most bankable actors, but some Danish women's magazines have also labelled him the sexiest man alive for several years running.

      Here in North America, Mikkelsen is just beginning to emerge as a household name after starring in the latest James Bond flick, Casino Royale, in which he plays the blood-weeping villain Le Chiffre. But if you missed him in Royale, you can still catch him in the significantly more modest Danish film After the Wedding, by director Susanne Bier. Mikkelsen plays Jacob, a troubled Dane working as the director of an orphanage in India. Seemingly out of the blue, a wealthy Danish businessman offers him a $4 million donation for the orphanage. But there are strings attached, which leads to one unexpected plot twist after another.

      The film premiered last September at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens in Vancouver on Friday (April 13).

      Mikkelsen sits in a Toronto hotel room looking tanned and relaxed in a loose white shirt and khakis on the final day of the festival. He's a fresh Scandinavian breeze compared to the bleary-eyed, half hung-over film-industry types dragging their shoes down the hotel hallways.

      Hot off the Bond set, Mikkelsen is happy to discuss his country's national cinema and its support from the government-funded Danish Film Institute. "It's a 60/40–percent deal," he says about the DFI's typical contribution to a feature film. "You raise 60 percent of the money and they will supply you with the rest. And once a film project is under way, it's the director's film and nobody else interferes–maybe to give advice or something, but nobody else can pull the strings. It becomes [the director's] orchestra."

      Mikkelsen explains that each year, the DFI supports about 25 features (not bad for a country of about 5.5 million), but the average budget for a Danish film is just US$2.5 million, which pales in comparison to films like Royale, which was made for something like $150 million. Mikkelsen considers this a plus for Danish cinema: when a project is not accountable to private investors for vast sums of money, box-office success is less crucial. This, in turn, affords more creative freedom for the director and less meddling from producers. "I know they can't do that on multimillion-dollar-budget films," he says. "That's not the way it works, and I understand that fully–but because we have such small budgets in Denmark we get a lot of freedom."

      Which could explain why Denmark has become known internationally as a hotbed of experimentation and innovation in cinema, particularly thanks to filmmakers like Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Back in 1995, they helped devise the controversial Dogme 95 movement, which dictates that all who sign their "vow of chastity" must make films with hardly any artificial elements–for example, no professional lighting, props, or postproduction sound effects can be used. Since then, almost 100 Dogme films have been made all over the world, but mostly in Denmark.

      Dogme films, like Vinterberg's The Celebration and von Trier's The Idiots, also tend to be aesthetically raw, realistic, and thematically dark and/or twisted, which has become the stereotypical perception of Danish films around the world. But Mikkelsen says this is not true of all Danish cinema. "A lot of the films you see over here [in North America] are dark, middle-class domestic dramas–realistic stuff–but we are making a lot of different kinds of films," he says. "The guy who wrote After the Wedding [Anders Thomas Jensen] is doing his own films, and they are more in the family of the Coen brothers–black, black comedies with an almost fairy?tale frame around it. There are so many different kinds of films being made in Denmark."

      Bier and Mikkelsen's first collaboration together, Open Hearts, was a Dogme film. Wedding, which was made more conventionally, is more optimistic and lighter in tone than what many might expect from a Danish film. "It is different," Mikkelsen says. "Susanne works with human nature–people trying to do the right thing and not necessarily achieving it.”¦This time she wanted to do a larger story about poverty and enormous wealth, and I think she was able to do that and still be true to Danish realism. But it is slightly lighter."

      So does Mikkelsen prefer working on small-budget Danish pictures or blockbuster Hollywood productions? "I can't say I'd like to do 20 Hollywood films in a row, but I also wouldn't like to do 20 Dogme films in a row either," he says. "I would get sick and tired. So if I can combine those things, then it's just perfect."