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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Von Trier strikes again; a triumph for him and Kidman."
5 stars

Artists ranging from Nina Simone to Marianne Faithfull have covered the 'Threepenny Opera' song "Pirate Jenny," and Lars von Trier is the latest. 'Dogville,' which sparked controversy and debate ever since premiering at Cannes, takes the Brecht/Weill ditty as its inspiration, wedding it to the homespun theatrics of Thornton Wilder.

Dogville is, at first, ostentatiously stagey: The entire film unfolds on a vast soundstage, with chalk marks denoting the outlines of the streets and delapidated homes of the town, not to mention benches and gooseberry bushes and even the town dog Moses. Yet this minimalist, digital-video-shot film has its own cinematic flash and thunder, and does things only movies can do.

Told in "nine chapters and a prologue," Dogville introduces us to the inhabitants of a near-death mountain town (during the Depression, one assumes), and a more motley crew would be hard to imagine. The youthful, philosophical, and rather pompous Tom Edison (Paul Bettany) is the town's nagging conscience, exhorting them to be "open" to new ideas. But most of them, including the weary laborer Chuck (Stellan Skarsgård, in one of his finest performances) and Tom's own father (Philip Baker Hall), a hypochondriacal doctor, don't care to hear it. The townspeople -- numbering fifteen in all -- attend Tom's "meetings" mostly to humor him, but probably also because, well, what else have they got to do?

Into this close-knit town comes Grace (Nicole Kidman), pursued by shadowy men with guns. Tom finds her first, and offers to take her in. She gratefully accepts, and the town agrees to give her two weeks in Dogville, so that they can get to know her. Grace spends this time offering her services doing things that don't necessarily need doing (there's so little work in Dogville that the townspeople pretty much have it covered). In time, Grace is accepted. She seems ready to start her life over in this placid, unchanging locale. But the story doesn't end there.

Von Trier has said that he intended Dogville as the first film in a trilogy. But it could also function as the final film in an unofficial trilogy that began with his Breaking the Waves (1996) and continued with Dancer in the Dark (2000). All three focus on women put to gruelling tests by larger forces -- fate, society, religion. Nicole Kidman, who has run hot and cold with me, weighs in here with a performance of willing subserviance -- to the material and to the director -- that rivals the work of Emily Watson and Björk in von Trier's earlier dramas. Everyone in the large ensemble seems to jump at the opportunity to work with such meaty yet primal material, from youngsters like Jeremy Davies (as a shy doofus) and Chloë Sevigny (as his acerbic sister) to veterans Lauren Bacall (as the stubborn tender of the gooseberry bushes) and Ben Gazzara (as a blind man too proud to admit his disability). Presiding over everything is the God's-eye narration, spoken by John Hurt in nostalgic, dulcet tones.

The town brings Grace to her knees over the span of three hours of screen time, yet Dogville, for all its "stage"-set whimsy and its imaginary trees and houses, never lags. The downward spiral is transfixing, the apocalyptic finale shocking. At heart, Dogville is a cinematic novel about hypocrisy, an attack on those who espouse "American values" without practicing them. The film is not called Grace; the town rejects grace (the quality and the person) and the possibility of redemption through hard work. Grace is running from a past worth running from, and Dogville's resident moralists prove themselves only too eager to throw her back to the wolves. In doing so, they become no better than the wolves, and we are left to judge them worthy of their fate.

"Pirate Jenny" is a fantasy, a song of empowerment sung by a maid, and it's possible to read the climax of 'Dogville' that way, too. But I doubt that's the interpretation von Trier had in mind.

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originally posted: 01/09/07 14:42:48
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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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