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  Dogville Nightmare On Elm Street
Year: 2003
Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Jeremy Davies, Chloë Sevigny, Lauren Bacall, Philip Baker Hall, Ben Gazzara, Stellan Skarsgård, Blair Brown, Harriet Andersson, Jean-Marc Barr, Zeljko Ivanek, Siobhan Fallon, James Caan, Udo Kier, John Hurt
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Dogville is a tiny, American village of the 1930s sitting on a mountain ledge. Its resident writer, who has yet to write anything much, is Tom (Paul Bettany), and it is he who confronts a car containing sinister strangers which drives up into town one day. They are gangsters looking for the newly-arrived and hiding Grace (Nicole Kidman), and when they leave, Tom decides not to let the gangsters get her, for she believes they will kill her, and persuades the town to let her stay. Not all the citizens are happy about this, but they agree to let her remain for a couple of weeks; in the meantime, Grace busies herself with helping out, but, as she comes to realise, she should have picked a better place to lie low...

Written by the eccentric director Lars von Trier, this was another in his series of films which saw saintly women roundly victimised, but this had a different outcome than the ones for his previous heroines. What you first notice about this film is the distinctive appearance, not only the shot on video look, but the fact that it all takes place on one huge set, which is basically a bare floor with markings on it to denote the various buildings. Dotted around are various props and items of adornment - a bit of mountain against a wall, wooden struts for the abandoned mineshaft, a blackboard for the schoolroom and furniture. There are no walls or doors to the buildings, and when anyone enters a room, they mime opening a door, accompanied by an appropriate sound effect.

The townsfolk don't regard Grace as much use, but let her assist them anyway. Grace is sweet natured, and is trying to repay their kindness, so she keeps the blind man (Ben Gazzara) company, weeds the gooseberry patch of the shopkeeper (Lauren Bacall), tends the church organ, nurses a disabled woman and helps at the school, despite not really being needed by any of them. When the two weeks are up, the townsfolk hold a meeting, and ring the bell (represented by the top of a belltower suspended above the set) for the every citizen who agrees to let her stay for longer. It is settled, and Grace is allowed to live there for as long as she wishes.

Soon after, she begins to make herself indispensible, and although being paid, is taken advantage of. She is forced to work harder for less pay, and what was once a favour is now a condition of her security. Von Trier seems to be making a heavy handed comment about the U.S.A.'s treatment of its immigrant population, as Grace (the newcomer to the community) is put in the position of performing all the menial tasks that no one else wants to do, and suffering mightily for it, all in the name of protection. She accepts this until people begin to get menacingly abusive, when she decides to make an escape attempt.

What had at the start looked quaint, like a board game on a large scale, now looks stark and disturbing, played out against white walls or black. When Grace is first raped, it is in the schoolroom, supposedly in private, but as we can see the townsfolk milling around apparently uncaring, they seem complicit in the assault. And eventually they are, as Grace becomes their scapegoat and the dogsbody for everyone to vent their frustrations on, which she accepts with, as her name implies, an undue degree of tolerance. All the people who took her kindness before turn against her in the most exploitative fashion.

Is von Trier saying that everyone has that degree of the citizens' vileness in them? That once you find someone of a lower status than you, you will mercilessly take advantage of them? That the abused will inevitably turn abuser? It's one thing to be challenging, it's another to be unpleasant, and the ending, which sees a harsh comeuppance, shows that Dogville has brought out the worst in Grace as well - I guess there was only so much she could stand. Kidman delicately endures all this sadism while never looking less than elegant, even in a metal collar, and the supporting cast have the right sense of brittleness, including Bettany's supposedly well-meaning but ultimately selfish writer. However, three hours of bleak human nature is a bit much to take, and the only laugh in this depressing exercise is featured during the end credits, where David Bowie's "Young Americans" plays over photographs of the American poor, except at the line about Nixon - guess whose image pops up?
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Lars von Trier  (1956 - )

Notoriously eccentric Danish writer, director and producer, a graduate of the Danish Film School, who has capitalised on international acclaim and disdain in equal measure. Thrillers Forbrydelsens Element and Epidemic started the ball rolling, with distinctive war drama Europa really setting von Trier up as a talent to watch.

Breaking the Waves, the first in a series of victim stories, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and his fame spread, especially as he had teamed up with three other directors to create the Dogme '95 rules of filmmaking - controversial The Idiots was von Trier's result. Then Dancer in the Dark, a musical starring Bjork, proving he was anything but predictable, and Dogville, a scabrous attack on American small town life.

He was next involved in The Five Obstructions, a documentary which revealed much about his methods. Then, a thematic follow-up to Dogville, slavery drama Manderlay, which was followed by little seen comedy The Boss of It All and most controversially, his relationship goes to hell horror Antichrist.

His drama Melancholia won its star Kirsten Dunst Best Actress at Cannes, but he was ordered to leave after a press conference faux pas, then returned with the patience-testing, two part Nymphomaniac. After a gap, he made bleak horror comedy The House That Jack Built, to more controversy. On television, he created the superb horror series The Kingdom, and he frequently casts Udo Kier.

 
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