Dear Wendy

Dear Wendy may be audacious, even stylish, but it hardly an "exploration of guns and violence in America." Developed from an original story written by Lars von Trier (Dogville, Dancer in the Dark), and shot on locations in Denmark and Germany, Dear Wendy embodies a European obsession with the myth of the American frontier. In the lead roles are Jamie Bell as Dick, and Wendy, a small but dangerous ladies’ hand gun, as herself. Dear Wendy, it eventually becomes clear, is a love letter to a lethally dangerous mistress.

In fact, Dear Wendy is a pastiche of Hollywood western themes and characters woven into a modern-day morality play about the mystique of handguns in America, at least as seen from a distant European mirror. In true western tradition, setting is a major character, and Vinterberg and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle make fascinating use of an abandoned US military base in Denmark, a northern European stand-in for mythic "Anywhere, USA." The script calls for a hard-scrabble, working-class coal-mining town somewhere in "the southeast"—and delivers an oddly hybrid locale which blends Appalachia with the old Southwest, curiously reminiscent of Brecht’s Teutonic Alabama (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). Telling too, the mythic temporal frame corresponds broadly to the American occupation of Cold-War Europe, setting the film vaguely in "the present time," somewhere between 1965 and 2005.

Dick is an outsider, a sensitive boy in a rough-and-tumble place. His childhood loneliness gives way to friendship with the other young local loners, Freddie (Michael Angarano), Huey (Chris Owen), Stevie (Mark Webber) and Susan (Alison Pill), who eventually grows tits. They bond under Dick’s leadership into a group of clandestine gun lovers, calling themselves the Dandies. As each one becomes an expert in gun lore and marksmanship, each bonds with his or her "partner." The highly emotional, even eroticized relationships they develop with their handguns is both very creepy and, perhaps, the most true-to-life dimension of this film’s vision.

A key factor in the film’s architecture arises from Lars von Trier’s long-standing interest in the mid-60s rock group The Zombies. Much of the film’s subtext is embedded in the lyrics of several of their songs (such as "Time of the Season"). These love songs to or about particular women typically stand in for the particular handguns featured in the film and define a character’s relationship with his or her "partner." The Dandies also have a predilection for anachronistic dress-up and, as a group, resemble a sixties British pop band, or possibly ABBA. Even the most grandiosely self-loathing American teen-age iconoclast would not identify as a gun-loving "pacifist" or dress up like one of Herman’s Hermits, but it’s a pretty nifty literary device to translate American wild west outlaws into a band of sophisticated art-film dandies. (Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) and von Trier seem not to know that in America the dandy has historically been viewed as an effetely homosexualizing, and purely European creature.)

Dear Wendy picks up where Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (with soundtrack by Bob Dylan, notably "Knocking On Heaven’s Door") left off. While Sam Peckinpah’s film reflected on the U.S. quagmire in Vietnam at the time, Vinterberg and von Trier foreground their European obsession with social outsiders making Faustian pacts with their guns and their outlaw status. Inclusion of The Zombies serves as a nostalgic salute to when rock music was the iconoclast’s red badge of courage. Indeed, the nascent popularity of American rock music among European youth in the 1960s and 1970s has come to be seen as a European Faustian pact with American culture.

Les Wright