Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dogville: DVD Review

I don't usually like director Lars Von Trier's film, and I almost always loathe Nicole Kidman (I think she ruins just about every film she's in) which is why I was so surprised to find that I liked Dogville (2003) so much.

Dogville tells the story of Grace, played by Kidman, a woman on the run from the mob who takes shelter in a small, poor town in the mountains. Slowly, Grace is able to get past the town's initial suspiscion of her and win them over by working for them in exchange for keeping her hidden, but as the mob, the police and the FBI circle in closer, the townspeople become crueler and demand more work until she's practically a broken slave.

The film was made entirely on a bare sound stage, suggesting the play "Our Town," or an any-town. The setting of "small, isolated town in the American mountains" is typically bathed in so much sentimentality and nostalgia it's practically pornographic. Von Trier removes everything-- walls, mountains, trees--so all we have left is the human interaction, which is the focus here. And the film pretty much crushes any notion of sentiment or nostalgia (some Hummel figurines are literally smashed midway through the film).

Nicole Kidman was great here, though I usually don't like her at all. She delivered some surprisingly well-considered line-readings, that also--unlike her usual breathy, self-conscious, actorly delivery--seemed perfectly natural, too. The film rests on her shoulders, and she carries the rather difficult emotional transition and a surprise ending very well.

I liked the twist at the end, but Grace's final decision takes too long and seems too talky: it didn't seem like it should have been that way. Maybe with a second viewing I'd understand it better. I also thought that the pictures and song played over the final credits were a mistake in tone, although I do love David Bowie.

When I was watching the film, I thought for sure that Von Trier had based the script on an American literary novel, maybe something that had come out in the 90s. I was surprised at the end credits when I was looking for the author to see that Von Trier wrote and directed it. He's pretty talented, that Von Trier.

Dogville is three hours. It's so good it doesn't seem that long, but that's still pretty long. Fortunately, the film is divided up into "chapters" which are divided by titles so it would be easy to break your viewing of the film up into several evenings.

The film was originaly released in the McCarthy era of the mid-1950s, and it was accused of being "anti-American." Just kidding. The film came out just a few years ago, released into the PRESENT nightmare, though today's nightmare has elements of yesterday's. The movie was roundly accused by film critics as being "anti-American." That accusation is beneath mention, other than to say that those film critics should know better than to engage in that sort of nonsense.

It may be too early to say, but I think Dogville will one day be viewed as a foolishly-overlooked classic.

FilmStocker Rating: B+

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