The implementing of the 'Vow of Chastity' in Jan Dunn's "Gypo"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. Gypo

3. Dogme95
3.1 History of Dogme95
3.2. The religious aspect in Dogme95
3.3 Gypo and Dogme95

4. The “Vow of Chastity” in Gypo
4.1 Dogme-rule #1
4.2 Dogme-rule #2
4.3 Dogme-rule #3
4.4 Dogme-rule #4
4.5 Dogme-rule #5
4.6 Dogme-rule #6
4.7 Dogme-rule #7
4.8 Dogme-rule #8
4.9 Dogme-rule #9
4.10 Dogme-rule #10
4.11 Final declaration

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Gypo is the first UK Dogme95[1] -film, placed on position 37 in the official Dogme-film list[2]. Being produced with a low budget of 250.000 pounds in thirteen days[3], every scene filmed only once and some improvised dialogues without a script for the actors, its international success was a surprise not only for the writer and director Jan Dunn and producer Elaine Whickham. Being invited to numerous film festivals in Europe and the United States it has gained a lot of attention.

The following work will concentrate on the Dogme aspects of Gypo. After the introduction, a short overview about Gypo will be given in the second chapter. To make it easier to follow the upcoming main analysis in chapter four, this will include a brief summarise of the story. Chapter three concentrate on Dogme itself and its history: how the idea came up, how it developed and which role it has in today’s film business. Furthermore it will clarify the religious influences and point out the coherences between Gypo and the term Dogme. Chapter four will have the main part. Containing the explanation of the ten Dogme rules – also called the “Vow of Chastity” - it will analyse how they are implemented in Jan Dunn’s Gypo. These analyses will be added with explanations and comments taken from two different interviews, one by the “Father of Dogme” Lars von Trier[4] to clarify the intentions to make up such rules, and one by Jan Dunn[5] to point up her intention to follow them. In chapter five conclusions will be made concerning the question how Dunn managed to obey the Vow of Chastity. Due to the limited space of this term paper only a few scenes of Gypo will be taken out to be analysed more detailed; many scenes that are almost calling for interpretation have to be left aside.

2. Gypo

With three well known actors out of five main characters Gypo ’s cast receives a lot of attention in Britain: Paul McGann as Paul, Pauline McLynn as Helen and Rula Lenska as Irina are all very popular actors or comedians in the UK. Chloe Sirene as Tasha has got several role-offers through her part and will surely make her way, as well as Tamzin Dunstone in the role of Kelly, who was detected at a local theatre.

Like rule number 8 of the Dogme-rules[6] says, Gypo does not fit into any kind of genre. It is not even a movie with a single story – it is a movie that tells three stories, depending on the characters perspective. The title is a bad swear word for Romany-Czechs. In short it is a film about a few days in the life of a working-class family living in Margate: Helen, her husband Paul, her daughter Kelly, her granddaughter Jordan, Kelly’s schoolmate Tasha and her mother Irina. The marriage of Helen and Paul is not very lucky, as is Helens relationship to her daughter. When her daughter brings in a new “friend” – Tasha, a Czech refugee waiting for her passport - everything changes.

Gypo is told out of three different perspectives: Helen’s, Paul’s and Tasha’s. All three parts are introduced by a sequence at the beach, where the name of the narrating character is laid in the sand with stones and swept away by the waves as a hint that something will change - except Paul’s name, that stays static, which might be an allusion to his character being static as well as to his never changing prejudices. Even though Paul does not seem to be a main character as much as Kelly, his perspective is very important to show the view of a slightly racist person. Kelly’s view would be very interesting to help understanding how a person develops from a neutral to a right wing conviction, but as she is a teenage girl many of her actions could be blamed to the changing moods of a teenager. Depending on who is “telling” the story, details are left out or emphasized that are not in the other perspectives.

3. Dogme95

The third chapter will concentrate on “Dogme95”. 3.1 will give a short overview how the idea arised, developed and was dropped again. 3.2 will point out religious influences on Dogme. In 3.3 reasons why Gypo is a Dogme-film will be given.

3.1 History of Dogme95

Dogme95 is a manifesto for film production that was brought up by the Danish producers Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg in only 45 minutes. Their intention to do such a manifesto was a kind of protest against the upcoming lack of reality in films, especially in Hollywood productions. Therefore they decided to forbid the manipulation of the film afterwards, for example through special effects or any technical tricks, as well as genre classifications and alienation of time and space in their Vow of Chastity. They were the first ones who signed it. In March 1995 they presented these rules in Paris at the 100th birthday of film, which caused great attention. Von Trier read out the manifesto and afterwards he spread red pamphlets containing the manifesto, then left the room and refused to give any more statements concerning this action when journalists later asked him about it.[7] Three years after the presentation of this manifesto the first films following these rules were presented by Vinterberg and von Trier in Cannes: „The Idiots“ and „The Celebration”.

Until June 2002, thirty-five Dogme-films have been certificated (two more were up to come, one of them was Gypo). As von Trier said in an interview, at this time no perfect Dogme-film has been made and he himself has violated the rules several times in his own films. He admits that it is impossible to follow all of the rules, “like many of the ten commandments of the bible. […] But the intentions are noble.”(von Trier, 1999).

After only two years newly created Dogme-office for certificating Dogme-films had been closed again[8]. The producers decided that they will certificate no more films, because Dogme has almost become a genre on its own - what was not the intention when composing the manifesto. They also felt cheated when other persons than directors applied for the certificate, because only the director of a film can decide if he intended to do a Dogme-film. Another reason for closing the office was the fact that it seems impossible to keep all rules, like the committee has experienced in its own projects. They saw it more as a question of conscience if a director feels he or she has abided by the rules or not, and additionally this would be judged by the audience who watches the film. In addition to that they do not have any more economic foundation to continue with their work, partly also because they have – after ten years of Dogme-films - moved on to new experimental film projects.

Instead of going on with certifying or regretting certifications, they choose that everyone who wants to shoot a Dogme-film can feel free to follow the rules and to publish the result, the list of films will be continued in the internet. The group officially split in March 2005.[9]

3.2. The religious aspect in Dogme95

The Vow of Chastity is not only a religious vow as von Trier admits (von Trier, 1999). But this analogy was intended as the fact shows, that he compared the whole idea with the holy rules and called himself a sinner because he does not keep the rules. The producers who intend to make a Dogme-film have to swear to abide the rules as well as members of a religious group have to if they want to join it. He also compared the change in the approval procedure to converting from Catholicism to Protestantism. Of course also the term Dogme itself is a hint to the connection of his rules to religious aspects, as well as the number of the rules: exactly as many as the ten commandments in the bible. The contrast between the ways how Dogme and Hollywood films are produced reminds at the fight between good and evil- that Hollywood is not portrayed as the holly one here is obvious. The last vow that is not count by number – maybe to keep the number of rules equal to those of the commandments, maybe to highlight it in a special way – emphasizes how many constrictions a producer has to accept to be taken in into the small group of chosen ones – definitely an ironic allusion to the religious cult.

3.3 Gypo and Dogme95

How does a director come to the idea to shoot a Dogme-film and force him - or (like in Dunn’s case) herself - to follow ten rules that were set up ten years ago by four Danish producers, instead of filming without any restrictions?

When Jan Dunn and Elaine Wickham met through a new talents initiative, Dunn suggested writing a story containing the local contentious asylum-seeking issues. She wanted to produce it after the Dogme rules if it was to be a gritty, social-based drama, because she thought this would suit to Dogme and that it would be useful for the themes they were exploring. It should become quite raw and should be filmed with a hand-held camera, the realistic impression should be won by avoiding technical finesses and special effects and by using a naturally given environment instead of artificially sets and added props. Wickham as a big Dogme-fan agreed immediately and a few weeks later they met the Dogme advisor Nielsen in Copenhagen who told them, that it would be the first UK Dogme-film. Even though it was sometimes very hard not to break up the Vow of Chastity, they managed with little exceptions to follow the rules. After finishing the film, Dunn says that it was “creatively liberating”, but that she will never shoot a Dogme-film again (Dunn, 2005), so it seems that it has more difficulties than advantages to swear the Vow of Chastity.

Being placed on position 37 on the Dogme-list, Gypo is the last officially certificated Dogme-film. The office has been closed while the shooting was in planning and the producers decided to give no more certifications; therefore Gypo plays a special role in the Dogme-history. Followed by three more British films it has a kind of precursor position.


[1] In the following text this term will be shortened to “Dogme”, which is an official term as well.

[2] No Author. (No date). “Dogme-films”. (No update date). (10.04.2006).

[3] Wood, Sura. (2005). “Gypo.”. (2006). San Francisco: The Hollywood Reporter. (12.04.2006).

[4] Rundle, Peter. (1999). “We are all sinners. Excerpts from an interview given by Lars von Trier.” (No update date). (08.04.2006).

[5] Sims, Stella. (2005). “Back to basics. Stella Sims talks to director Elaine Dunn about the challenges involved in making her award-winning debut feature, Gypo, the first certified British Dogme movie.”. (No update date). (10.04.2006).

[6] See Chapter 4.

[7] Scheplern, Peter. (No date). “Film According to Dogma Restrictions, obstructions and liberations.” (No update date). (10.04.2006).

[8] Nielsen-Ourö, David & Rørsgaard , Ann-sofie. (2002). „The Dogmesecretariat is closing.” (No update date). (10.04.2006).

[9] Wunderlich, Dieter. (2005). ”Dogma 95.” (2005). (10.04.2006).

Excerpt out of 19 pages


The implementing of the 'Vow of Chastity' in Jan Dunn's "Gypo"
University of Mannheim
First Films at Mannheim/Heidelberg Film Festival
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Chastity, Dunn, Gypo, First, Films, Mannheim/Heidelberg, Film, Festival, Vow of Chastity
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Stefanie Krause (Author), 2006, The implementing of the 'Vow of Chastity' in Jan Dunn's "Gypo", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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