Valdís Óskarsdóttir's Country Wedding has a remarkably avant-garde central concept that makes for a great nugget of trivia, and as it turns out, only a modestly entertaining finished project: at the start of shooting her film, she rehearsed the characters and their history and their relationships, had each of the cast members think of one Big Secret for the character, and then shot the whole movie without a script or indeed a story beyond the bare narrative framework that this was about a group of people on a bus trying to find the church where a wedding was supposed to take place, except that nobody - not even the groom who set this up - knows where they're going. The specifics of each scene were totally improvised, and the actors could choose for themselves whether or not to share their secret with anybody else over the course of the seven-day shoot.

You know who gets a whole lot out of this kind of exercise? The actors involved. Other than that, it's really just a crapshoot, because thanks to the magic of film editing (magic that Óskarsdóttir knows well: this is her directorial debut after a career spent editing movies, most notably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the audience could never tell that this was improv - we're just concerned with whether or not the characters and story work in the specific 100-minute framework that we're given to witness them. Sure, knowing that backstory helps to explain some of the stranger moments in the film, like near the end when one character keeps repeating himself until somebody reacts, but it doesn't actually make the film any better or worse.

At least it's a fairly successful comedy, in that quintessentially Scandinavian mold where it's funny how miserable everyone is. Country Wedding is somewhere between a farce and a comedy of errors born from the actions of a great many people who are lying to everyone else about something or other, or at least withholding the truth. Going through the whole cast would take the rest of this review, but in a nutshell, there's a bus that's mostly empty except for the bride, Inga (Nanna Kristin Magnúsdóttir), and her party - including her mom's boyfriend and her bridesmaid's senile grandmother. And there's a bus that's mostly empty ("Why did we get two buses?" asks a perplexed father-of-the-bride at one point) except for the groom, Barði (Bjön Hlynur Haraldsson), and his party, including his long-lost closeted gay uncle and a last-minte replacement best man that the bride can't stand, seeing how he shaved her fiancé's head the night before the wedding and all.

The film is content to entertain without providing much deep insight into the human condition, unless you consider the notion that when in doubt, people will behave in greedy self-preservation to be a penetrating insight. But as light comedies go, it's misanthropic enough to have some bite, and the characters are generally unique enough in one's memory (largely because they are precisely-defined stereotypes) that the film sticks around longer than it seems like something so essentially disposable ought to. You can't argue with what's funny, basically, and while I'm sure Country Wedding isn't everyone's cup of tea, I for one found it consistently amusing enough (if never laugh-out-loud worthy) to recommend it as one of the better comedies I've seen this year, in our modern age of terrible cinematic comedies.

Stylistically, the film isn't obviously limited by its improvised nature (most of the scenes were shot on four separate cameras), but it is clearly influenced by the Dogme 95 movement, where Óskarsdóttir has spent much of her editorial career. That means a lot of handheld camerawork, minimal lighting and a healthy number of somewhat awkward angles dictated more by where the camera operator could stand than by what makes for a compelling visual. I've never pretended that I'm a particular fan of the Dogme style, but like anything else it can be used for good or for evil, and for the most part the looseness in the visuals of Country Wedding matches the shaggy farce. One of the things that handheld tends to be very good at is making it feel like the camera is an active participant in the mise en scène, so that in an ensemble piece like this we can almost feel like we're one more member of the wedding party, silently watching all these people around us go to people. It's the same exact effect that was achieved in that other recent handheld wedding movie, Rachel Getting Married, or in just about every home movie filmed at a wedding in history. Maybe it's a bit trite, but it fits Óskarsdóttir's film rather nicely, and makes for a movie that's pleasantly down-to-earth and simple in its desire to entertain.