PSIPOOK | reviews | dogville



Drama/ Denmark, Sweden, UK, France, Germany /English (Japanese subtitles)/177mins
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall
Director: Lars Von Trier
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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

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