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I Am Dina

Seville Pictures // R // August 1, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted August 30, 2003 | E-mail the Author
I am Dina, hear me roar.

As a child, Dina (Maria Bonnevie) is traumatized after accidentally causing the death of her mother, who was burned to death by a vat of boiling lye. Her father is resentful, giving her little love, and Dina grows into a fierce, strange woman who is haunted by her mothers ghost. The only person who shows her any compassion is her music teacher, who gives her outlet to express her feelings through playing the cello. As she reaches adulthood, her father marries her off to a business partner, Jacob (GĂ©rard Depardieu), and eventually the older man cannot control her passion for sex and impetuous nature to do as she pleases. Following his death, she has an affair with a stable boy and life long friend, wrestles for control of Jacob's business with his children, and falls for Leo (Christopher Eccleston), a dedicated Russian anarchist. But, she is a woman haunted by the ghosts of those she has loved, and it seems everyone she loves dies and is destined to haunt her.

I Am Dina (2001) is a European produced (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France) melodrama set in the 19th century where, for Dina and everyone around her, misfortune is piled on top of misfortune. It comes as no surprise that the story was adapted from the first in a trilogy of novels. It feels like something of epic length that has been whittled down, and large fissures appear where information has been diluted to keep the tale moving along. Her marriage to Jacob is summed up in a few quick scenes, and her pregnancy is a quick montage. Even such events as her instant connection with Leo go by quickly, which doesn't help the story since the actors are very often saddled with unwieldy dialogue. Director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch) is better at capturing the chilly landscape than he is getting a deep insight into the characters.

In the simplest terms, Dina is, in some ragtag form, an early feminist. When her father demands she marry Jacob and smacks her for her refusal, she responds by head butting him and kicking his ass across the room. Despite the fact that women of the time were thought to be unable to handle such affairs, when Jacob meets with his business partners, Dina boldly walks in the room and begins to bluntly dispense advice. Of course, it is wise advice. She is supposed to be a woman so driven, animal wild, instinctual, and headstrong, that he era's view of women as inferiors will never squelch her.

But, here is the big problem with the film. Forget the squeeze of the narrative and the thinness of the characters. As a feminist heroine, Dina is completely wrong because she is out of her mind. Any positive aspect to her character, like the refusal to bow to societies pressure, is negated by the fact that she faces these things with a wide-eyed crazy stare and off-putting demeanor. For instance, her kind teacher of ten years has to leave her. Since she doesn't want to be left alone, she tries to choke him to death. She would rather he die than leave her. Also, when she has her child, for some unexplained reason, she runs off to a cave, howls like an animal, and squirts the kid out there. At times, she doesn't seem to even care for her loved ones, like the husband she won't let get a decent nights sleep, the child she doesnt directly raise, or the stable boy she uses like a piece of meat. Beyond the phantasms following her, there are also more fantastic/unreal elements added to her character. She has some psychic "connection" to people, like, just by looking at him, being able to take away the suffering from a man about to be hanged. But, it comes off as creepy instead of enlightened. Because of her dementia she just becomes utterly unsympathetic and any righteousness in sticking up to her passion looks like selfishness. The entire film is crushed under the weight of Dina appearing like some woman who is just a hair away from being a ranting, disheveled bag lady.

The DVD: Seville

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. With the Norwegian locale, there is that colder, subdued, winter color palette of whites (okay, technically white is the absence of color, but you know what I mean) and blues. When the film shifts to more summerish seasons, the greens and blues are still not very vibrant, washed out, and the tint is on the yellower side. So, the color scheme is a bit drab, but it is reflective of the location. Sharpness and contrast could use some improvement, but are fair. No real glaring print dirt of technical defects other than a fleck or two and some very minor edge enhancement in a couple of spots.

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, English or French language tracks. The lush orchestral score is presented well, and the cello playing comes through with a nice deep bass. The dialogue tends to be a bit weak, in part due to the recording being low mixed. It could also seem weaker due to the international casts shaky command of the English dialogue. Even poor Brit Eccleston, the one cast member best suited for the dialogue, has to bury his diction in a bad Russian accent.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for I am Dina, Divine Intervention, Talk to Her, 8 Women.

Conclusion: The presentation is fine, barebones, but the image and sound are in okay shape. Unfortunately, the film itself probably isn't going to be of much interest to most film fans. I mean, I'm all for crazy. But, when crazy ruins the whole point of your protagonist, that is a whole different story. If you are intrigued by its premise and the often gorgeous landscapes, this one is probably best reserved as a rental.






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