Grace (Nicole Kidman) finds herself in the isolated township of Dogville, in the mountains of middle America, while running away from mysterious gangster types in black automobiles. With encouragement from local would-be writer and thinker Tom (Paul Bettany), the community agrees to hide her Ėon a two week trial. In order to win their trust, Tom suggests that Grace does chores for everyone in the small town, offering her services as a gift. But as the search for Grace intensifies, the people of Dogville demand a much better deal for hiding her, and she learns the hard way that goodness is relative. But Dogvilleís residents also learn a lesson.
Review by Louise Keller:
Itís unique. Visually, structurally and emotionally pushing all the boundaries, Lars von Trierís Dogville is a striking and haunting film about power, corruption, betrayal and revenge. Coupled by the inspiration from a song by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill from The Threepenny Opera and criticism he received after his Dancer in the Dark success in Cannes suggesting that he should not make a film about America without having been there, von Trierís passions for the project were ignited. A co-production between 11 countries, this is a film whose themes are truly universal.
The use of a minimalist soundstage with painted outlines suggesting building boundaries is both simple and arresting. Our focus hones in on the characters and their emotions with few visual distractions. Von Trier makes full use of overhead shots, highlighting the monopoly board-like view with its central Elm Street, giving us a sense of the unity and smallness of the town. Many may find the 144 minute running time (edited from 177 minutes) overlong, but the film grabs us immediately and my attention was held throughout.†
With a similar structure to previous von Trier works, Dogville comprises nine chapters and a prologue that introduces us to the small fictitious Rocky Mountain town of Dogville and its inhabitants. Set during the Depression and narrated by John Hurt, itís a bit like having a book read to us, chapter by chapter, and watching stage actors playing out the action. Itís the story about a town that could be any town, anywhere. The inhabitants are a mix of honest, ordinary folk: workers, a doctor, a married couple with lots of children, a blind man who pretends he isnít blind, a cleaning lady and an idealist young man who aspires to write a novel. This is the story of their corruption. A simple gift effects change in everyone in this parable, illustrating the frailty of the human spirit.†
Nicole Kidman radiates with vulnerability as Grace, the fugitive whose wish to please everyone around her is the catalyst for the townsí corruption. Itís a demanding role and a tremendous performance (seen in very tight close ups), resulting in the highly emotional impact of the climactic scenes. The film is all Kidman, but Paul Bettanyís Tom (a role Von Trier modelled on himself) convinces with his well-meaning idealism that eventually disintegrates when disillusion hits. We feel Tomís pain as he sees Grace physically possessed by everyone in the town, except by him Ė and he is the one who loves her. Stellan Skarsgard has such a strong presence, and the scenes between him and Kidman are riveting. But all the performances are excellent from a string of highly talented actors such as Ben Gazzara, James Caan, Philip Baker Hall and Lauren Bacall.
Grace does everything in her power to make people like her. Her alabaster hands are set to work, and as she offers to do things people want, as opposed to doing things people need, she finds Ďthereís an awful lot to do in Dogville.í Taking the blame for things that are not her fault, Grace becomes a victim, and her wish to please makes her a prisoner of her own making.
Thought provoking with its dense and intense themes, Dogville highlights the best and the worst in us all; the emotions it agitates are hard to shake.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
One of the most striking aspects of Dogville is Dogvilleís extraordinarily sophisticated use of English. Not only in the dialogue, which is impressive enough, but in the evocative, formalised English of the narration that plays such a large part in the filmís tone and mood, with John Hurtís rich, poetic voice, short of flowery but long on insinuation. This helps enormously to create the mental landscape of what is a hybrid of play and film, staged on a stage-like studio floor, but filmed with the tools of cinema. The language is that of an English that is from the past, its formality and its luxuriously expanded phrases serving both the informative and emotive roles of writing. Ironically, we learn that von Trier (who wrote it in Danish) asked his English translator to try and keep a sense of the Danish and not make it too perfect. The result is perhaps more powerful even than von Trier expected.
This device also leads us into the realm of the filmís fable-like interior, because we are denied the touchstones of factual reality: houses and rooms donít exist, streets donít exist, except for indicative chalk marks on the floor. Itís early 20th century, and dark. But our attention is undivided by details which soften the gutsy context; there is no chance for your wandering eye to enjoy the leaves falling in autumn. Our eyes are stapled open to the raw emotions of the characters, the surface simplicity of the story, and the subsequent unravelling of the human condition.†
Lars von Trier has experimented with cinema throughout his career, setting up the DOGME manifesto as a counter to over-polished filmmaking, among other things. This, too, is an experiment, but one that not only takes elements from a variety of theatrical sources (including writers like Brecht, Dickens, Shakespeare) and theatrical approaches, but also one that is built on the solid foundations of an observant writer.†
Nicole Kidman carries the film in every sense, with a physicality and an emotional backpack thatís shatteringly tangible. You never doubt her, even though you never quite know her. Graceís complexity is the filmís most successful and lasting achievement.
Long, yet as concentrated in its power as high octane fuel, Dogville plays and satisfies on many levels, and yet is simple enough as a good yarn - with a twist. In many ways itís like a delicious short story, which has you ducking and weaving emotional and moral issues as you move inexorably though the brittle branches of its garden of delights and frights. Itíll leave you thinking . . . or rather, youíll leave it, thinking. And a bit messed up. But donít let anyone talk you into thinking this is some anti-American sermon; itís not that simplistic, thank Lars, and youíll find a world weary sense of melancholy about our universal greed / selfishness (and its effects) that is far more interesting.
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LARS VON TRIER DECONSTRUCTS DOGVILLE
CAST: Nicole Kidman, Harriet Andersson, Lauren Bacall, Jean-Marc Barr, Paul Bettany, Blair Brown, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson, Jeremy Davies, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall, Thom Hoffman, Siobhan Fallon. Narrated by John Hurt
PRODUCER: Vibeke WindelÝv
DIRECTOR: Lars von Trier
SCRIPT: Lars von Trier
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony Dod Mantle (Camera Operator: Lars von Trier)
EDITOR: Molly Malene Stensgaard
MUSIC: (non original) Vivaldi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Peter Grant
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: July 7, 2004