Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 'Confessions Box' featurette -
on-set video diaries of the cast and crew; 'Von Trier, Kidman
& Cannes' documentary; UK theatrical trailer.
AFTER Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark,
the doyen of dogme, Lars von Trier, has come up trumps again with
another innovative and imaginative way to present a film.
In this case, the action is shot on a sound stage, in which props
are kept to a minimal, and rooms, doors, vegetation and even the
dogs of the isolated mid-western town of Dogville are represented
in chalk outlines only.
Night and day are depicted through the simple device of either
having the lights on or off, and the edges of the stage serve
as the town's boundary.
Upon this minimal set, Trier and the cast play out a moral drama
which begins in earnest when Grace (Nicole Kidman), a young woman
on the run from what appears to be the Mafia, turns up in the
town in the middle of the night seeking sanctuary.
At first, the insular townsfolk are wary of accepting an outsider
into their midst, but when the community's would-be philosopher-prince,
Tom (Paul Bettany), pleads on the newcomer's behalf, they agree
to shelter her - but only on the grounds that she work for minimum
wage for whoever needs her.
To begin with, this seems an ideal
solution; Grace appears happy to have escaped her past, and her
pursuers and the citizens seem pleased to have some new blood
However, when the police arrive in the town looking for Grace
things change for the worse.
The townsfolk, wary of any action that may attract the attention
of the outside world, agree to weigh the risk they are taking
in sheltering Grace against the demand that, in return for their
continued protection, she work twice as hard as before, for half
Thus begins a spiral of enslavement, from which Grace grows increasingly
desperate, but unable, to escape from.
As in his previous films Trier has focussed on a central female
character, who, being both friendless and isolated, finds the
world massed against her.
It is a misanthropic vision of humanity, wherein the cruelty
with which the long-suffering and saintly Grace is treated is
heightened by the cant and moral hypocrisy that the citizens use
to justify their wicked actions.
As before, von Trier seems to be suggesting that people left
to their own devices will almost inevitably turn to some form
As you might expect from a cast that also includes Lauren Bacall,
Ben Gazzara and James Caan, there are some compelling performances
on offer; so compelling, in fact, that the three hours it takes
to play out the tale, which culminates in an unexpectedly shocking
twist, pass with the minimum of clock-watching.
If you've already decided that you hate von Trier's work, this
film is unlikely to change your mind. However, if you're still
sitting on the fence