The direction is incisive, but there remains the incontrovertible fact that this is a filmed play that one should have seen on the stage. Failing that however, it is still a magnificent experience to watch Rachel Roberts and Albert Finney reenact on film the union, in George Meredith’s words, of this ever-diverse pair. It is acting at its very highest: anyone who cares a rap about performance penetrating to the essence of humanity owes himself this experience. Watch Finney change from act to act (the movie preserves the act division): he goes from a baffled but still belligerent young husband to a cocky, irresponsible lecher, and thence to a man prematurely old and exhausted but clinging to some illusion of independence. It is not one but three glorious performances rolled into one; I promise you that you have never seen an actor change more drastically without benefit of make-up—bulge out so in one scene, and cave in on himself so utterly in the next. Notice how the eyes go dead, the voice gets blunted, the very outline of the body blurs with defeat. Rachel Roberts is no less superb, but her part has fewer dimensions. Yet how piteously she ages, becomes more thrall to despair, and still preserves a spark of pugnacity, however dulled and enfeebled.
The film simply reeks humanity from every frame or pore: battered, smelly, hopelessly soiled humanity, yet somehow luminescent in its very putrescence.
The goal of the Dogme collective is to purify filmmaking by refusing expensive and spectacular special effects, post-production modifications and other technical gimmicks. The filmmakers concentrate on the story and the actors’ performances. They believe this approach may better engage the audience, as they are not alienated or distracted by overproduction. To this end, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg produced ten rules to which any Dogme film must conform. These rules, referred to as the “Vow of Chastity,” are as follows:
1 Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2 The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)
3 The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
4 The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5 Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6 The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7 Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)