Lars von Trier's peculiar compulsion to humiliate his heroines (and by extension the actresses who play them) has finally crescendoed to a deafening din of indiscriminate, exasperating martyrdom in "Dogville," a daring experiment in heightened performance and minimalist filmmaking that is fatally undermined by the Danish writer-director's conceit as a narrator.
His last four movies ("Breaking the Waves," "The Idiots," "Dancer in the Dark" and now "Dogville") have all dealt largely with the psychological (and sometimes physical) torture of vulnerable female protagonists. While his storytelling and cinematic style are almost always compelling, he's never seemed so arbitrary in his sadism than in this allegory of a beautiful, 1930s flapper fugitive hiding from the mob in a ragged, remote, austere Colorado mountain hamlet, where the tiny populace goes from distrustful to accepting to maliciously cruel on little more than von Trier's say-so.
Played with discernible dedication by Nicole Kidman, Grace is a porcelain enigma of self-flagellation so determined to escape some kind of shadowy past that, in exchange for the skeptical township's shelter, she agrees to indentured servitude -- doing handy work, favors and manual labor one hour a day in each of the seven households. She gradually comes earn the friendship of all -- even those most reluctant to accept her.
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