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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.05%
Average: 13.33%
Pretty Bad: 3.81%
Total Crap: 20.95%

8 reviews, 57 user ratings

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by MP Bartley

"Arse or artistry? Both actually."
3 stars

'Dogville' is set to be a prime piece of evidence in 'The Emperors New Clothes' debate. Lars Von Trier has moved away from the rigid film-making rules set down by dogme - he uses sound from an outside source - but still maintained an in-your-face style. There's no sets and the digital close-ups are as unflinching as ever. So is this a piece of challenging, intense cinema from an enfant terrible or a wank-piece from someone vanishing up their own arse? You decide. Me? I'm somewhere in the middle.

'Dogville' is filmed like a stage play on a big, dark soundstage. A few props litter the edges of the stage and the occasional wall of a building, but other than that everything is drawn out in thick white lines with names of the owners written on the floor. Even the town dog is a chalk outline with sound effects.

It then proceeds to tell the story in ten acts, each punctuated with an on-screen title card (think Kill Bill) with a voice-over from John Hurt which lends it a fairy-tale quality, which is both enjoyable yet disturbing. Dogville would seem to be a depression-era town with its inhabitants meeking out a pretty poor existence. There's local girl Liz (Chloe Sevigny) who gets attention from all the menfolk as the only young girl. There's woodsman Chuck (Stellen Skaarsgard) and his wife Vera (Patricia Clarkson) and their brood of children. There's also Thomas Edison (Philip Baker Hall) who used to be the town doctor, and his son Thomas Edison Jr (Paul Bettany). Edison Jr is the thinker of the town, constantly trying to educate the townsfolk that there is a world outside Dogvile and they have a moral obligation to investigate and support this world. These morals are tested however when Grace (Nicole Kidman) strays into town. She's on the run from some gangsters and hides in the mine one night, under Tom Jr's protection. An uneasy truce then forms between Grace and the townsfolk. They'll protect her if she works for them. This situation is taken advantage of however when she is forced to work long hours for less pay. And then the men start to take their own advantage of her. Which makes the women angry...Yep it's your usual Von Trier laugh-fest! Martin Lawrence fans need not apply. (as an aside, I saw this shortly after House of Sand and Fog. Not a cheery double-bill I'd recommend)

So then, "no sets?" I hear you cry? Yep, that's right, it's all chalk outlines. Even when a character walks through a door they mime grasping the door handle while the creak of a door opening comes from offstage. You could be forgiven for asking then, isn't 'Dogville' simply a glorified play on camera? In one respect you would be right. Right until the final shot there's no trickery and nothing that would suggest a script that couldn't be accomplished on stage. But on the other hand there's no play that could force you to look at the nasty side of human nature as much as 'Dogville' does. And 'Dogvile' does get nasty. Very nasty. And with Von Trier stripping away any artifice, there's no hiding place for anyone. When Grace is facing up to her worst abuse the other inhabitants are standing up and around, all complicit in their silence. They see as much as we do, but do as much as we could do as an audience.

So with no boundaries and no protection from anyone, Von Trier has no hesitation in shoving the camera right into characters faces. There's no pain-wracked grimace from Grace, no sneer from the sullen Chuck, no love-lorn glance from Tom Jr that we don't miss. And the cast certainly rise to the challenge. Skaarsgard is one of the nastiest characters to crawl across screen in recent memory, and Clarkson matches him as a seemingly pleasant woman, but who has no problem resorting to bullying tactics behind her ice-cold smile. It's a starry cast with Lauren Bacall, Jeremy Davies and Ben Gazarra among others (including a belter of a final cameo) all dropping any sign of an ego or a Hollywood persona to give themselves up wholly for Von Triers experiment.

It's Bettany and Kidman that take the plaudits however. Kidman shows that given the right script and the right motivation, she can go toe-to-toe with anyone as an actress. Although an initially distracting presence, she soon fades out of the film as the character of Grace fades in. And someone start giving Bettany bigger and better roles now. He was the highlight of 'A Knight's Tale' and 'A Beautiful Mind' and stole the ship from Russell Crowe in 'Master and Commander'. Given the leading male role here, he's superb throughout, carrying several different emotions at once - tenderness, pity, love, frustration, anger - and frequently in the same scene.

But despite the good acting you can't help but shake the nagging feeling that these actors feel that they're slumming it. They're doing it because it's art dahling. Because ultimately, 'Dogville' is a lot of fuss about not very much. The lack of sets do give it a raw, unflinching feel but ultimately it's just a diversionary tactic to disguise the fact that 'Dogville' for all its effort of being different just doesn't have an awful lot to say for itself.

It seems to be saying 'people in America don't take kindly to strangers'. Fine, but what does that have to do with chalk lines? Does it give it any more creedence or make the satire any sharper? No, not really. Does the lack of sets make it more truthful? Not at all, 'Far From Heaven' was designed up to the hilt but still said as much and didn't lose its message because it had walls either.

You want to make film about abusing the kindness of others? Great, a fantastic topic. But for three hours? Von Trier just doesn't have the content to pad the inordinate running time and also can't even fall back on style to give the audience something to watch. Sure, a lack of sets might be interesting...but it also gets very boring after a while. And Von Trier and his followers can argue until they're blue in the face that being boring is part of the point. That it's cinema designed to be boring and difficult and edgy. Fine, but just because it's edgy and difficult doesn't make it better or profound or good.

And for all the power that a fantastic final act has, can't disguise the fact that there's about 3 totally redundant acts before it. And for all its serious and grim intent, there's a spanking scene that just provokes sniggers. I know Von Trier wants to be provocative, but is that kind of provocation?

I won't even go into the old argument that Von Trier is a misogynist. Yes he makes all his female characters suffer, but then, so does Tarantino and no-one accuses him do they? After watching 'Dogville' you feel Von Trier doesn't hate women. He hates everyone.

Should you see 'Dogville' then? If you've the spare time and the inclination for something different, by all means give it a shot. But don't be fooled by the chalk lines and the mammoth length, that this is something special. It's not, it's just saying a lot of things that have been said before, in a slightly different way. And that doesn't make it any better or any more artistic. It could easily be a play (stage or radio) so don't believe the kidders who will shout phrases that they really don't understand like 'pure cinema!'. See it, think "Yep you're right Lars...but three hours to say one thing?" and forget it. The sets aren't the only thing that are see-through here.

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originally posted: 03/20/04 00:19:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/21/13 Jason Lan The needless narration was the worse part: the dialogue was simple enough. 1 stars
10/29/11 hurdygurdy man As a dear old friend use to say: Get the gun!! 1 stars
11/29/10 dick trombley A highly creative allegory, misunderstood by most. 5 stars
8/12/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
5/17/08 Remi Great style, great plot, great finale. 4 stars
5/13/08 Geoffrey Ms Bacall needs to lay off the Woodbines-she looks and sounds so rough. Excellent film! 5 stars
5/14/07 David Pollastrini Boooooring! 2 stars
4/15/07 Bitchflaps Fascinating. I wrote off Von Trier's films in the past and I'm tempted to reassess them now 5 stars
6/15/06 William Goss Lengthy yet rich, with a solid performance by Kidman and a refreshingly bold climax. 4 stars
11/28/05 Jane it is great 5 stars
8/25/05 Paperazzo no special effects, cool movie, something different 1 stars
8/22/05 mmm naka doesn´t know about movies 5 stars
6/19/05 chris. that was really fun 5 stars
3/12/05 maria magnificent expierence 5 stars
3/09/05 Uncle Phucker First ten mintues you'll have to excuse. It's well worth the strange ride. Best film 2003! 5 stars
3/07/05 ad awesome 5 stars
1/10/05 allen stott great movie!!!! 4 stars
12/02/04 Lach MacDonald The slow narrative pace doesn't suit the TV-reflex attention span; so what? 5 stars
11/29/04 Movie Lover This film was unbearable. 1 stars
11/22/04 Dragana ATR, this is ART! I did not notice that lasted 3 hours 5 stars
11/22/04 ad nice twist 4 stars
11/13/04 Naka Nope! 1 stars
10/31/04 Anne-Marike revealing. the plain scenerie puts an emphasis on the character's inner development 5 stars
10/18/04 Natasha Theobald amazing storytelling; cynical and disturbing with a bedrock of truth 4 stars
10/17/04 Charlene Javier Possibly one of the best films of all time... 5 stars
10/13/04 fiona interesting 4 stars
9/13/04 leeleeD. Brilliant. I'm stunned. 5 stars
9/01/04 psycho dwarf Lars' sardonicism is overbearing in this trojan horse for polemical debate. 3 stars
8/31/04 A F Pretty good. Kidman makes me sick. Someone put her down. 4 stars
8/28/04 tatum It's not anti-American, it's anti-viewer, anti-entertaining, and Von Trier sucks! 1 stars
7/17/04 legend An interesting film about the nature of people and their dark side. 4 stars
6/16/04 Roxana It makes a few memorable points about human nature, about our fear of anything foreign. 4 stars
5/10/04 Palme d' Or The movie was a bit too stilted, but it did have some worth, and Nicole Kidman was great. 4 stars
5/02/04 nniedzielski It took me a few days after seeing this to realize what an effect it had on me. 4 stars
5/01/04 Cameron Slick aargh 2 stars
4/18/04 Monster W. Kung Von Trier's never been to the US yet thinks they suck huh? Well I've never seen this movie! 1 stars
4/15/04 von More about humanity than America, and the best movie to come out of this decade yet. 5 stars
4/13/04 zig it make you think about humanity itself 5 stars
4/04/04 freya Kay Interesting view of how others may view America. It is about saving amd than enslaving 4 stars
4/02/04 mark boring 1 stars
3/28/04 Xander long, weird, confusing (chalk?) but somewhat engaging 3 stars
3/21/04 Anarchy Azmi orang putih semua bodoh amerika bangang 5 stars
2/14/04 Jack Daniels Film for aspiring intellectuals that want to believe they've understood something profound 1 stars
1/28/04 irena overelongated, moralistic, over-explanatory, pathetic and morbid exaggeration 2 stars
1/27/04 NIcole Awesome, brilliant and Kidman is sublime 5 stars
1/23/04 Carina Romer All I can say is, he has done it again! I love his symbolism! 5 stars
1/21/04 Betty White Breathtaking cinematography and rich performances, especially from Kidman & Bacall. 5 stars
1/19/04 Akilis Awesome, brilliant and Kidman is sublime 5 stars
1/19/04 Lilo Great Script. Brilliant actors. Katharsis. Insight. I watched it 3 times (until now). 5 stars
1/16/04 Elendil Shaky camera. Good script. 4 stars
1/13/04 miky finally someone proves that comercially movies must be kicked out. 5 stars
1/13/04 Helen Bradley Kidman excellent weird but great script 5 stars
1/02/04 christopher pathetic 1 stars
12/29/03 John Bale Bleak fable set as theatre, good acting, poor camerawork. Nicole sounds like Marilyn M. 4 stars
12/18/03 Kyle *Yawn* WAY too damn long. 2 stars
11/20/03 Reini Urban This is how theater should be. masterpiece 5 stars
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  26-Mar-2004 (R)
  DVD: 24-Aug-2004



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