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DOGVILLE (R) (2004)

Lions Gate

Official Site

Director: Lars Von Trier

Producer: Vibeke Windelov

Written by: Lars Von Trier

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 themselves better.

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.

—Edward Rholes


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