Dogville

"Good"

Dogville Review


Evoking the age-old parable of human nature pillaging the likes of total goodness when it strangely pops up in town, Lars Von Trier's much-anticipated Dogville has such intense extremes of useful experimentation and annoyingly repetitive patronization (a tendency throughout his respectable filmography) that the sum of its parts comes out evenly average.

Predictability reigns for much of the film, because we've seen the story far too often before. A stranger comes to town where the residents are skeptical of outsiders. She proceeds to go out of her way to ingratiate herself, they finally accept her, and then show their true colors against her of what they fear to inflict on one another due to extended co-habitation. The dysfunction turns into a gang of all versus one, regardless of any normal sense of morality, which they are able to slowly rationalize. On the one hand, the unhurried process through which this evolves respects the fact that nobody changes actions or views over night. But because we know it's going to happen, the path to getting there feels arduous.

A Who's Who of acting talent is assembled to perform tactile stereotypes of small town folk, on a sparsely furnished sound stage with walls marked in white, declaring the name of where each belongs. To the credit of all, and based on a well-structured screenplay, the minimalist setup actually aids in the universality of the themes von Trier proceeds to tackle. Had there been more flashy photography (which von Trier did himself) or all too beautiful physical environments, the sympathy for poor, saintly Grace (Nicole Kidman) would have had an inappropriate sheen placed in too high importance. Everyone's responses are more immediately shocking or rewarding because they have little to rely on to convey motives besides how their body moves through open space, and they all handle the challenge supremely well.

Though obvious situations are flung at us one after the next, Dogville is surprisingly able to sustain attention, though you wouldn't expect considering the bare essentials upon which it's based, throughout its three-hour play, much ado to the emotional interactions of the characters. Kidman again rises to a role difficult to fill with the subtlety required. Each of the supporting players provides strong background as well, no matter how little material they have to work with, and they don't get much individual focus.

Aggravation sets in with the realization that though von Trier dutifully presents a true picture of human behavior, but he seems to have nothing new to say or commentary to add on the subject. For a director that has created such impressive and provocative variety of films as Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, he's unfortunately allowed the non-aesthetic of Dogville to overshadow the completion of his own thoughts. Perhaps it was simply his goal to mess with the functions of filmmaking and see what the result would be. There's none of the usual battling of right and wrong or three-dimensional complexity normally experienced when leaving the theater after one of his films. Unless, of course, we're to believe that all humans are scum and we all deserve to burn in hell, but this is too contradictory to the appreciation of Grace's character overall.

Still, von Trier is to be commended for the courage to try absolutely anything. His eclecticism after some two decades of writing and directing never fails to draw respect, even when the results aren't entirely illuminating or profound as they could be. Going from a story as fanciful as Dancer in the Dark to the stripped setting and convention reliance of Dogville is certainly bold, it's too bad the reward is so anti-climactic.

Reviewed as part of the 2003 New York Film Festival.

So where's the dogs?



Dogville

Facts and Figures

Run time: 178 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 21st May 2003

Box Office USA: $1.5M

Budget: $10M

Distributed by: Lions Gate Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 114 Rotten: 49

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Grace Margaret Mulligan, as Gloria, as Ma Ginger, as Man with the big Hat, as Tom Edison, as Mrs. Henson, as The Big Man, as Vera, as Bill Henson, as Jack McKay, as Tom Edison Senior, as Gangster, as Martha, as Ben, John Randolph Jones as Gangster, as Man in the Coat, as Olivia, Miles Purinton as Jason, as Mr. Henson, as Liz Henson, Shauna Shim as June, as Chuck, Evelina Brinkemo as Athena, Anna Brobeck as Olympia, Tilde Lindgren as Pandora, Evelina Lundqvist as Diana, Helga Olofsson as Dahlia

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