Short Takes

Published May 9, 2004

Dogville

Zentropa Entertainment

How truly difficult it is to make an original film. Lars von
Trier, the peerless destroyer of female protagonists in movies such
as “Dancer In the Dark,” steps up to the task at hand
and presents yet another unique and engrossing vision with
“Dogville.”

Nicole Kidman (“Eyes Wide Shut”) stars as Grace, a
beautiful and mysterious fugitive who stumbles upon the isolated
township of Dogville. The town philosopher, Tom Edison (Paul
Bettany, “Master and Commander”) challenges the
town’s residents to accept Grace as a testament to their
kindness and an experiment to show the town’s altruism.
Although the town is slow to warm up to Grace, they seemingly
accept her as one of their own. Agreements and understandings
change quickly, however, and it doesn’t take much for the
town to turn brutally on Grace.

With a three hour runtime and a set that stretches the
definition of minimalism — the houses and props are basically
police chalk outlines — this film has the intimacy of an
off-Broadway play. With such a localized focus,
“Dogville” demands patience and forces attention as it
delves into the character’s intricacies and
relationships.

The use of a nuanced literary voice-over narration and period
music all give the film a beauty that comes through in even sharper
contrast as the film’s ugliest moments transpire. Such
unrelenting focus adds to the emotional resonance once the
characters start their descent. Von Trier’s flair for
bringing down the audience, along with his characters, is on full
display again as Kidman’s suffering is devastating to both
her character and her sympathizers.

On its surface the film can be taken as a parable of the
American immigrant experience. Upon its initial release, many
castigated and dismissed “Dogville” as anti-American No
one wanted to hear a critical voice about America, especially from
a foreigner. However, those who dwell on the geopolitics will miss
the grace and nuance of the film. On its most universal level,
“Dogville” dares the viewer to examine power and its
abuses, human nature and forgiveness. “Dogville” stands
as an important film from a creative director that rises well above
the controversy to stand as one of the year’s best.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

—Hussain Rahim