Dogville (2003)

3.5 stars

Takes too long to say what it wants to be consistently interesting, but one must marvel at how Lars von Trier and his ensemble cast do so much with so little.

Dir. Lars von Trier
2003 | Denmark | Drama/Crime | 178 mins | 2.35:1 | English
Not rated (likely to be at least M18 for a scene of rape and disturbing images)

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall, Harriet Andersson, James Caan
Plot: A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits the town, she finds out that their support has a price. Yet her dangerous secret is never far away.
Awards: Won Palm Dog & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Trust Film Sales

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature/Dark
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse


Review #1,710

(Reviewed on DVD)

Spoilers: No

Dogville is a quaint little film, though stretching close to three hours, it might be demeaning to call it little.  But like a piece of dough waiting to be moulded, it really does so much with so little, yet takes too long to say what it wants (to be).  The result is a work of a compulsive thinker, but not necessarily one by a compelling writer.

Fresh off his Cannes Palme d’Or win for Dancer in the Dark (2000), Lars von Trier takes an abrupt left turn with Dogville, a film constructed like a stage play with makeshift props and chalk lines demarcating ‘roads’ and ‘private properties’ in what has been described by Quentin Tarantino as an inarguable Pulitzer Prize winner had it really been a play.

“But I’ve got nothing to offer them in return.”
“Oh, I think you have plenty to offer Dogville.”

But is it really cinema, and if so, is it one that is stripped off of almost all artifices (rather Dogme 95-ish one might argue) only to reveal an inherent deeper layer of artifice that serves as the film’s main construct?  This might not be so dissimilar to the assertion put forth by Iranian director Jafar Panahi in his ‘home video’ documentary shot under house arrest, This Is Not a Film (2011), where he lamented, “If we could tell a film, then why make a film?”

Von Trier, through narration by John Hurt and rather strong performances by Nicole Kidman and the supporting cast, tells the film through the seeming process of making it.  Almost akin to a filmed rehearsal with sparse sets, and the intricacies of blocking and lighting, in lieu of making the actual movie, Dogville takes a while to get used to, but it sure is original and peculiar.

Its novelty does wear off after a while, but the ensemble cast hold the fort, even if the story, broken up into a prologue and nine chapters, feels meandering in the middle sections.  Kidman plays Grace who after a narrow escape from some thugs after her, straddles into Dogville hoping for respite.  She meets Tom (Paul Bettany) who helps to assimilate her, though not without distrust from the townsfolks.

Von Trier would allegedly sometimes try to strip, and direct scenes naked, in order to provoke and agitate the cast.

Essentially, Dogville is about how a stranger could change the dynamics of a community of people, and bring everyone to places that they have never been before, psychologically and emotionally that is.

One might call it an epic experimental film, but von Trier’s work here (not to mention a masterclass in lighting by Anthony Dod Mantle, whose breakthrough came in the 2002 Danny Boyle zombie movie, 28 Days Later) while provocative in its themes and approach, isn’t as consistently interesting or compelling enough to justify all of its three hours.

Grade: B



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