Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg made a splash in 1998 with The Celebration, a winning entry in the aesthetic sweepstakes known as Dogma 95 — the same cinematic exercise that popularized the concepts of ”handheld camera,” ”available light,” and ”Lars von Trier.” Then, having mastered the rules of that game, Vinterberg celebrated by overdosing on frankly fake frippery in his follow-up feature. The garbled futuristic fantasy It’s All About Love stars Claire Danes as a famous ice-skating star, Joaquin Phoenix as her estranged husband, Sean Penn as a man forever on an airplane, and studios in Sweden as New York City in 2021. (Faced with playing uninhabitable characters, the actors resort to speaking slowly, with borderless European accents.) Flipping the bird to austerity, the filmmaker (who cowrote the script with Mogens Rukov) also sent second-unit crews to Kenya, among other pit stops, for pretty shots of Kenyans and their Kenyan landscape — because they could, not because the footage has any bearing on the story.
The experiment didn’t work. The English-language production is a jumble of poorly delineated notions about love, celebrity (the kind the director says rattled him after Celebration), the look of romantic movies, and the sound of American-style dialogue — and it’s been sitting on the shelf for over a year. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth Vinterberg’s doing. There’s nothing like the challenges of filmmaking freedom, it turns out, to deepen an appreciation for constraint.