Projections - Movie Reviews

Dogville
Dogville
Starring Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Harriet Andersson,
Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgard, Chloë Sevigny

Lars Von Trier starts out his “Land of Opportunity-USA Trilogy” with another long, daunting tale featuring a strong heroine. This time it’s Nicole Kidman in another indelible performance in Dogville, a film which resembles Thornton Wilder’s “Our town,” it’s a striking cinematic parable.

The exceptional Kidman is Grace, a nomadic woman winding up in the remote hamlet of Dogville during the Great Depression. The closed-knit denizens don’t know what she’s up to, but the philosophizing Tom (Paul Bettany) asks them to give her a break. His motivations will have quite an impact on Grace who he will secretly romance.

She’s immersed in their lifestyle in just two weeks helping people like Vera (Patricia Clarkson) teaching a growing lot of kids and working with her husband (Stellan Skarsgaard) in an apple orchard. Other actors who provide noticeable support are Chloe Sevigny as Liz and Blair Brown as her mother, Jeremy Davies as Liz’s brother whom Grace helps learn to play chess. She guides a blind man (Ban Gazzara), assists a shop proprietor (Lauren Bacall), helps an organist (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) turn pages, and mothers over a loner (Zelijko Ivanek).

Grace is a literary inspiration for Tom who has to cope with a father (Philip Baker Hall) who has psychological problems. Dogville is on a certain track until the police enter the picture looking for this enigmatic, alluring woman who happens to be on the run. Then, Von Trier begins to relate something quite austere, yet telling about intolerance and violence, not just in America, but something about all of humanity. There’s a passion when it comes to denial and pent-up emotions, gradually becoming devastating and ugly.

The reference to “Our Town” comes from the extremely spare production with an omniscient narrator (John Hurt). The theatrical feel comes through with lines, labels and props to show what’s there and where it is, as the astute director uses the camera and sequeways with visual and metaphorical implications.

Dogville requires a patient audience like Von Trier’s other controversial, acclaimed films like Breaking The Waves with Emily Watson. But, if it has a perplexing friction to it for a while and is hard to watch at times (especially during James Caan’s appearance), it gradually draws one into a web of morality and emotions from the way people can react when their lives suddenly change.

Some have viewed Von Trier’s latest effort as anti-American, though his artistry again has more scope than expected. See it for the type of work typical from Bettany and Clarkson, the latter limited to two quality scenes. But, Kidman combines a persevering edge with a naivety in a way that gradually serves as a prism to the town’s soul. She completes the resilient Dogville with a haunting, tortured turn that has a coda which hits those affected by its sub-text and details with quite a bracing truth.

 
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Dogville
 
 
 
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