The Dogma 95 manifesto is, at heart, the cinematic equivalent of Real Simple magazine: Films, the movement’s founders declared, ought to be manufactured organically, using handheld cameras, available light, twigs, recycled string, and actors with good, choppy haircuts.
Not surprisingly, the experiment has been most effective in dramas about personal and group erosion: Lars von Trier encouraged inappropriate behavior in ”The Idiots”; Thomas Vinterberg dissected family dysfunction in ”The Celebration.” But in The King Is Alive, disintegration occurs on a grand Shakespearean scale as a group of tourists, stranded in the African desert, fights desperation by mounting an impromptu production of ”King Lear,” their own relationships paralleling those of the tragedy as savagery intensifies in the burning sun. Among the cast of ”amateur” Shakespeareans, Janet McTeer displays Amazonian power while Jennifer Jason Leigh tears into her role as a high maintenance creature with a ferocity that leaves little room for her usual acting tics.
His more purist colleagues may ”tsk tsk” the outlandishness of the premise — it’s not exactly a walk in the Scandinavian park — but Kristian Levring’s entry (performed in English) is mesmerizing. The raggedy edges that make a Dogma movie look Dogmatic have never looked more painterly and beautiful. Pulsing with color and movement in a vast, dune filled landscape, this is a whole new way of using a now familiar bag of tricks — an explosion of pop art that goes surprisingly well with Danish modern.