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Dogville (15)



Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating: Two

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 in town.

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 the money.

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 of barbarism.

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….

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