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Old 06-16-2008, 08:28 PM
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traboule traboule is offline
tomate de la resistance
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 6,790
(2004, Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Dir. Lars von Trier)

Dogville is probably the only film on Viv's list that I actually dreaded watching. I'd seen Dancer in the Dark a couple years ago and that film had already soured me on Lars von Trier's 'vision' of the world. And from what I'd read around the forum, Dogville seemed to cause more divisive reactions than Dancer in the Dark. So I was prepared to dislike Dogville.

My final reaction ended up being mixed. The beginning certainly wasn't promising, with the satirical narration imposed over the doings of the layabout young philosopher of the town, Tom Edison, Jr. (Bettany). The film improved when Nicole Kidman's character, Grace, arrived in the town. Kidman's performance was fantastic to watch. Unlike Bjork's character in Dancer in the Dark who just seems to be innocent (and naive), Grace seems to have chosen innocence and humility. You sense she could have chosen a different way.

Grace is a fugitive from gangsters and the town reluctantly decides to give her harbor. In return, she offers to help with tasks around the town. Reluctantly, they accept her offer. Soon they're singing Grace's praises for how much she's brought to the town. That phase doesn't last long, however. As time passes, and the police come to town with (clearly fabricated) charges against Grace, the villagers start to think Grace owes them even more than she's given. They begin to take advantage of her kindness and serving ways, forcing her to do more work - and in the case of the men, forcing themselves on her. Tom is supposedly in love with Grace, but is ineffectual at helping her in any way.

More and more wrong is heaped upon Grace and it all seems so sadistic on the part of von Trier. It makes you sick. I can take dark films, but I value hope and thus films where the vision does not include hope is a bitter experience that I find hard to appreciate.

I did come to appreciate the unusual set design though. On the screen, Dogville exists mostly in imagination. The main street and the buildings exist as chalked outlines on a black stage. I actually came to appreciate this set-up as it turned out to be more than a gimmick. When Grace is first raped inside one of the homes, the fact there are no walls gives the impression that everyone in the town knows what is going on and is choosing to ignore it. Which, well, later in the story is actually what ends up happening - everyone knows that wrong is being done but by that point they don't think of it as wrong. They've rationalized their morality away.

It's a scathing indictment of (American) society, and I think the film makes some valid points. Though I've never personally witnessed anything so cruel as what happens to Grace in the film (thank God), certainly I've seen "decent people" who are more concerned with self-preservation than compassion.

*SPOILER* The film is a bit like a twisted messianic tale. Grace, the mistreated lamb, turns out to be the daughter of someone powerful - indeed, she turns out to have a lot of power at her disposal as well. Select the black box below with your cursor to view the spoiler text
Unlike Jesus who offered redemption, Grace decides that the whole town deserves to die. By this point, the whole town - even the children - have been so terrible to her, that I couldn't really blame her for that decision. Their deaths of course do not end up being satisfying, but it was a very good ending.

I can't say the same for the ending credits however - scenes of poor Americans with the almost jaunty song "Young Americans" playing over the images. It was jarring and unwelcome and, yeah, a rather coarse and tasteless move.

Overall, I ended up appreciating the film more than I expected. Nicole Kidman's performance was particularly worthy of watching. I still hate Lars von Trier a little bit. I don't know how people can live with a vision of the world like that.


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