Cast: Nicole Kidman, Harriet Andersson, Lauren Bacall, Jean-Marc
Barr, Paul Bettany, Blair Brown, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson,
Jeremy Davies, Ben Gazzara, Phillip Baker Hall, Siobhan Fallon Hogan,
John Hurt, Zeljko Ivanek, Udo Kier, Cleo King, Miles Purinton, Bill
Raymond, Chloe Sevigny, Shauna Shim, Stellan
If I had to sum up Dogville, latest oddity
from Dogma 95 devotee Lars Von Trier, I’d
say that it’s like watching a Thorton Wilder
play being raped by Samuel Beckett.
The movie takes place entirely on one nearly bare
stage, which is meant to be a tiny village in America
sometime in the Great Depression. Von Trier, who is
obsessed with placing self-imposed limits on his art,
has made an astonishingly uncinematic film with Dogville.
It’s basically just a play filmed with hand-held
digital cameras. The characters occasionally speak
in a soliloquy form that is common to the stage, and
a great deal of description is given from the point
of view of an omniscient narrator (voiced by John
Hurt), such as one might find in a novel.
The story revolves around a beautiful fugitive named
Grace (Kidman), who happens upon the tiny hamlet
while trying to escape from the police and some gangsters.
The residents of Dogville are initially wary of the
outsider’s presence, but she manages to ingratiate
herself through doing an hour’s labor for each
townsperson. For a while it all seems idyllic, as
she bonds with the townsfolk and becomes smitten with
the son of the town doctor, a daft philosopher and
writer of no accomplishment named Tom Edison. Before
long though it becomes apparent that Tom is not the
only one with eyes for Grace and slowly the whole
town turns against her. Jealousy and greed give way
to spiteful cruelty, as Grace is made into a slave
and repeatedly raped by all the men in town. Yet despite
all that is done to her Grace registers only mild
disappointment that the townsfolk can’t behave
At three hours, Dogville can be quite a trial,
especially wading through the first two hours, which
are essentially a put-on. And while it is certainly
audacious in its execution I’m afraid the film
is not nearly as subversive or original as it would
like to be. For most of the film Grace is a vacant
sketch, an object that is simply acted upon. When
Tom coaxes her into telling the townspeople about
what they’ve done to her, she threatens their
sense of identity and therefore has to be disposed
of. I won’t go into too much detail here, but
the ending has a real nice, nasty kick to it. But
despite a good punchline, I’m not sure I can
forgive a joke that takes three hours to set up.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...