As you’d expect from an alumnus of Dogme 95, Thomas Vinterberg’s Submarino employs light deftly as a means of emphasizing dramatic content. There are several remarkable scenes– an improvised baptism, for example, and shots of a man in the grip of addiction– where set lighting is key to the audience’s response. Notably, however, Vinterberg has chosen not to adhere to Dogme 95’s purist admonition to use only natural light sources as he did in 1998’s Celebration. As a result, this aspect of the mise en scene is textured by contrasts: the saturated flash of television sets in an electronics store window counterpoints a pale grey afternoon sky or the sickly fluorescence of a pub men’s room.
Submarino‘s story is fairly unsparing: two brothers raised by an alcoholic mother briefly encounter each other as adults after years apart. The eldest, Nick, has just been released from prison, while his younger brother (who is referred to only as “Nick’s brother” or “Martin’s father”) struggles to manage a heroin addiction as he raises a son. A quiet foreboding accumulates as the plot advances (and regresses), one that made me think of Requiem for a Dream. Indeed, if there is an obvious criticism to be made of the film at the level of content, it is that Submarino‘s characters suffer far too much. The parallel with Aronofsky’s Requiem— especially one of the physical forms this suffering takes– seems more of a repetition than a correspondence. This echo could be down to the source material, a novel by Jacob Bengtsson that has yet to be translated into English. Not to be cryptic, but once you’ve seen both films you’ll see what I mean.
Still, Vinterberg offers the surviving characters a shot at redemption. And if he does so quietly, almost tacitly, the final sequences of Submarino lighten a burden the audience has been compelled to share.