Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)

I loved von Trier's Melancholia, but had some reticence in checking out the rest of his films due to their renowned controversial subject matters. I'm not a fan of directors who try to challenge their audience just for the hell of it -- looking at you Godard. One of my friends lent me Dogville a few months ago (Sorry Trisha, I promise I'll return it soon) and I was hesitant to play it because it has so often been labelled as anti-American. What I have to say after viewing the film is that Dogville is simply put one of cinema's greatest treasures: a true diamond in the rough.
   The cast is pretty varied and hails from several different countries (ok fine, mainly the U.S. and Sweden). It also features some of my favorite actors: Nicole Kidman in the lead role, Stellan Skarsgard, Lauren Bacall, Harriet Andersson (my fave of them all), Zeljko Ivanek and Patricia Clarkson. Nicole Kidman stars as Grace, a woman on the run from the mob who, one night, ends up in the tiny village of Dogville. Tom, a writer in the village, proposes to help her hide, an offer she gladly takes. The next day, at a town hall meeting, Tom argues the case for the citizens of Dogville to hide Grace and allow her to remain at Dogville. She is given a two-week trial period. She tries to offer her help in order to get the people of Dogville to like her. Though initially unsuccessful, Grace soon feels welcome as the people of Dogville begin to accept her as one of their own. She even obtains her own house, a renovated mill, and continues to help everybody around town. But when the police continues to inquire about Grace's whereabouts and place posters asking for her return, the people of Dogville start to feel uneasy about lying to the police. This starts a chain of actions where several people use Grace's situation to their advantage. She, as do we, soon realizes that Dogville is far different from the humble small town she first thought and that evil lurks at every corner.
The set
   What is most outstanding about Dogville is the acting. Nicole Kidman delivers what, to me, is the best performance of her career and that's saying a lot since I think she gave one of the best acting performances of all time in Moulin Rouge.  Everybody else embodies their character and give great performances, including Paul Bettany as Tom and even Harriet Andersson in her small role as Gloria. It should be noted that the acting is given a lot of room due to the minimalist set. And by minimalist I mean the film is bare. There are no doors, the ground is chalked with indications of Dogville's building structures, and only a few erections here and there exist. It's as if we the audience are walking through an ongoing play.
   As far as the film being anti-American, most people focus on the closing credits which feature pictures of impoverished Americans of years past set to the David Bowie song Young Americans. Most of the negative criticisms state that von Trier had no right to give such a negative portrayal of America without having set foot there in the first place. Fair enough. But, as von Trier points out, Americans have been doing the same thing to other countries for decades (read: Casablanca). In my case, I can see the anti-American undertones, yet I don't think that is the main aim of the film. Dogville is an exploration of human nature and its revelation in the face of unwelcome change. It features an international cast, perhaps for that same purpose, to show that evil can form anywhere. The minimalist set is further testament to that. Heck, von Trier even manages to show us that evil can form in the audience, and I'm sure the audience is not solely American. I say that because as the film comes to a close, a strange part of yourself roots for the demise of the citizens of Dogville. Doesn't an eye for an eye make the whole world blind? Who cares? I have no shame to admit that I wanted to see these fuckers pay by the end. Revenge is part of human nature.
   von Trier has already delivered two of my favorite films of all time. Dogville is more than what any review can manage to say about it. As soon as I return the DVD to Trisha, I'll borrow some of her other von Trier titles. The man is a genius.

Ludovico Rating


  1. Alright, I'll just come out and admit that when I was younger I found a couple of his films ("Breaking the Waves" & "Dancer in the Dark") to be flat out brilliant. Then after a hiatus I saw "Antichrist" and am now forever changed for the worse. Visually stunning-yes. Enjoyable-No. I have had "Dogville" for years and have been unable to give it a try. You however, have peaked my curiosity and I might just have to pull this film out... soon.

    1. I could actually see you loving Dogville. The story and acting are fantastic. Antichrist is the one von Trier film I have been warned the most against so it's way down on my watchlist.