Dogville Movie Review
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?