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 -on 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 Dogville's residents also learn a lesson.
Review by Louise Keller:
Not only is the film unique; so is the DVD, with its Dogville Confessions, an intense 50 minute mis-en-scene feature on set with director Las von Trier and cast. In true von Trier style, it is as different and revealing as the film itself. We watch as the mood changes through the making of the film. Nicole Kidman confides that everything is a little strange and admits being overwhelmed. "It's kinda nice," she says, "to be doing something unpredictable. It feels almost like some little amateur theatre group." Watch Kidman give von Trier advice about the handling of the sex scenes, von Trier talks about valium, alcohol - and Paul Bettany says he wants to go home.
Visually, structurally and emotionally pushing all the boundaries, von Trier's 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 Trier's 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, it's a bit like having a book read to us, chapter by chapter, and watching stage actors playing out the action. It's 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 isn't 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 towns' corruption. It's 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 Bettany's Tom (a role Von Trier modelled on himself) convinces with his well-meaning idealism that eventually disintegrates when disillusion hits. We feel Tom's pain as he sees Grace physically possessed by everyone in the town, except by him - 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 'there's an awful lot to do in Dogville.' 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.
In addition to Dogville Confessions feature, there's an interview with von Trier, who talks about the film, the form and the acting. He talks about trust, and the different problems with men and women.
Published: July 15, 2004
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DOGVILLE: DVD (MA)
(Denmark / Sweden / France / Norway / Netherlands / Finland / Germany / Italy / Japan / USA / UK)
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
DIRECTOR: Lars Von Trier
SCRIPT: Lars Von Trier
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Feature; Dogville Confessions; Interview with Lars Von Trier
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
DVD RELEASE: July 7, 2004