Drama/ Denmark, Sweden, UK, France, Germany /English (Japanese subtitles)/177mins
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall
Director: Lars Von Trier
Grace is on the run from gangsters when she comes upon a small town in
the Rockies. It is not your usual town: there are no buildings and the
houses and streets are marked out with chalk lines on the floor of a huge
sound stage. There are precious few things in the town, only the odd chair,
the occasional mop to break up the space. No it is not some kind of corny
ghost town, this is the deliberate stagey set of Lars Von Trier’s
latest film Dogville.
The film is an experiment in filmed theatre — the characteristics
of a stage play brought to the big screen. The actors mime their interactions
with the inanimate world: they mime opening a door and we hear the sound
effect of a handle turning and so on. Brechtian artifice, or what? And
it could be very trying but as the story unfolds and as the actors show
their stuff, the staginess begins to make sense.
Von Trier is the director who brought us Dancer in the Dark and Breaking
the Waves so you know in advance that it is going to be about suffering
and cruelty inflicted upon an isolated, vulnerable woman.
When Grace arrives at the small town, the townsfolk take her in and give
her refuge. They are all the models of Christian compassion, listen with
sympathy to her plight and arrange for her to work doing chores around
town for a modest wage. However when it becomes apparent that Grace is
sought also by the police, and that her presence in the town is a threat
to its citizens’ attitudes change. They double her chores and halve
her money, the bullying starts and escalates to sexual abuse. This is a
truly bleak vision of humanity and when it dawns on you that the town is
not a remote abstraction of human nature but a certain nation the vision
becomes even scarier and darker.
The last word goes to the wealth of acting talent in this film, which brilliantly
catches the shifting nuances of suspicion and cruelty.
Review by Chris Page