Director: Lars von Trier

Denmark-Sweden-France-Norway-Netherlands-Finland-Germany-Italy-Japan-U.S.A.-U.K.| 2003. Filmed in English. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 177 minutes.

Love him or loathe him, you certainly can’t ignore Lars von Trier, and this incendiary drama is no exception. Like some perverse digital video cousin of Thornton Wilder’s famous play Our Town, it comes on like a slice of classic Americana, set during the Great Depression, where the good folks of Dogville are just about getting by, until the arrival of fugitive stranger Grace (Nicole Kidman, underplaying admirably in one of her greatest performances) changes everything. The locals know she needs their help to escape from something or someone, but they’ll give her the benefit of the doubt if she does a few odd jobs for everyone in the community (a stellar cast including Lauren Bacall, Paul Bettany and Patricia Clarkson). As time rolls on however, and Grace’s desperation for refuge becomes even more apparent, the price of kindness rises accordingly, shockingly so to most viewers.
That said, von Trier seems to be at pains to put a layer of thought-provoking Brechtian alienation between the viewer and the emotive events unfolding before us. Chapter headings indicate in advance what’s about to happen, for instance, and there are no sets, just an expansive studio floor chalked out like a town-plan, the invisible walls an ironic comment on the malice festering behind an apparently benign exterior. Meanwhile, John Hurt’s droll narration couches the parade of degradation in cheery storybook terms, to darkly humorous effect. Finally, it’s about the way exploitation can lurk menacingly behind self-righteousness, thus sowing the seeds of its own destruction. To thunder home the point von Trier closes with Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ and a very contentious photo-montage, but is the self-serving iniquity he’s attacking a commodity solely the property of the Yanks? You’ll be arguing about this brilliant, blistering piece of filmmaking for weeks afterwards. Miss it and miss out.-Trevor Johnston.

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