Happy New Year to everyone, wherever you may dwell. I don’t know about you but I can’t say how pleased I am to see the back of 2012, quite an odd, broken and unprosperous year, though, thankfully, the world didn’t end. It’s actually stopped raining too. I’m starting 2013 off with a bit of light popcorn, simply because I have nothing else up my sleeve,
Truly Human, or to give it its proper title, Et Rigtigt Menneske, is a Danish modern fairytale. It really made me laugh and smile throughout though, towards the end, things become more serious and there’s a sad finale, yet with a consoling twist.
A bit about Dogme 95 first. Unknown to me until now, this was a avant-garde movement in Denmark around 1995, to make films using traditional values of story, acting and theme, with minimal budget and no gimmickry and special effects. Et Rigtigt Menneske is an example of the Dogme genre. With this stripping down, I felt at times if this was a film made for television, there wasn’t much of a cinematic feel to it. What held it together and kept me watching was the superb performance of the lead, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, and the compelling story by writer-director, Åke Sandgren. So, accepting this film as it comes, you get a good idea about what Dogme is.
The story begins with seven year old Lisa and her career-obsessed parents, both of whom appear to have little quality time or attention to spare for their only child. So Lisa has acquired an imaginary older brother who lives behind the wallpaper of her bedroom. Each evening, by candlelight, she speaks to him about the world prompted by the images she finds in her parent’s magazines.
The family home is due to be demolished to make way for a new development, so they have to move into a new apartment. Shortly after moving, tragedy strikes the family. Around the same time, their old home is being pulled down. The day after demolition, a young man emerges from the rubble, as lost and naive as a seven year old alien might be if newly fallen to Earth.
And that’s how the outside world sees him. Believing him to be a foreign refugee, he is taken to an asylum centre, first to be schooled in Danish culture, then given an apartment, a bus pass, and a shop job. This is where the fun starts – the good intentions of his mentors, the furtive advances of his boss, and the flirtatiousness of his colleague, the absurdity of his journey from naive to simply misunderstood.
Of course, there is a message in all this. Sandgren is questioning what it is to be considered a human being. One of the lines he gets the character to repeat is, “I am a real human being”, much to the bewilderment of the people he’s saying this to.
But he lacks any of the nuances real human beings have, in particular their prejudices, suspicions, and acquired cultural codes of conduct. He is a blank slate, reacting without preconditions, but in a way that we might define as being truly human rather than merely human.
So, though probably not a great cinematic piece, it’s still a wonderful and captivating story with some real funny moments. A great character performance by the lead – and one of the better end credit sequence I’ve seen.