i am dina (2003)


director: ole bornedal

maria bonnevie, gerard depardieu, christopher eccleston

Like any good melodrama, the tone of Ole Bornedal's costume drama I Am Dina is set by its heroine, who we meet at the last moment of true happiness of her life, causing an accident that kills her mother. The little girl turns mute and feral when she loses both her mother and her father's love, and only the patience of a kindly tutor tames her - barely.

Dina becomes a young woman, played by Maria Bonnevie, who's beauty is enhanced by her mad, unkempt manner, at least for Jacob (Gerard Depardieu), an old friend of her father's. A successful businessman, he abjectly begs for Dina's hand, then meekly submits to the girl's domineering character, much to the dismay of his leering, thieving oldest son. Exempt from "womanly" obligations by her untamed character, Dina takes over Jacob's business, making him wealthier while exhausting him in bed.

He finds escape with a gentle older widow, but breaks his leg while fixing her roof; gangrene sets in, and Dina sets off with the dying Jacob through a snowstorm, pausing to push him over a cliff. His ghost joins her mother in haunting Dina, who returns to take over his estate, give birth to a child, and drive the oldest son to suicide. At this point, there is still much to happen in this crowded, methodically hysterical film.

Dina is, by any measure, quite mad, and so is the film that bears her name. Bonnevie glares and screams her way through the role, physically beating her husband and her father into submission, leaping on Tomas the stable boy and Leo the anarchist (Christopher Eccleston) with sexual hunger, riding, drinking and swearing and giving birth in a cave with animal howls.

It's as easy to laugh at a film as insane as I Am Dina as it is to be swept up in its high-camp improbabilities. It's hard to imagine that the book Bornedal's film is based on ended so halfheartedly, but it's doubtful that any ending would have been satisfactory after the overripe antics that precede it.