Year: 2003
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson, Jeremy Davies, Philip Baker Hall, John Hurt
Can you imagine Star Wars or Jurassic Park being done in the dogme style Lars Von Trier is apparently a contemporary genius in? It's like trying to imagine them as stageplays.

As a film lover you have to try to be accepting of every cinematic style and empathise with the director's intentions but this edges seriously on the border of being a lot of art school wank.

It just looks like the work of a filmmaker who really wants to do a movie but couldn't afford sets and was told by a cousin who works at a movie studio he could use a sound stage over the Christmas holidays, then passes it off as a groundbreaking new art form that the latte-drinking black turtleneck set will fawn over.

Although I can see the other side of the argument. After the initial novelty (and slight ridiculousness) has worn off, it does make you concentrate on the performances without distraction - it's easy to see why actors desperate for kudos or looking to expand their skills are so drawn to it.

And the set up actually becomes the comment the movie is making in places. During the long shots of Chuck raping Grace indoors while the townspeople go about their business around them (in what would be easy view except for the invisible walls of buildings) seem to be saying something about the inherent rot in humanity going on behind every closed door while we go on with our lives pretending everything's as rosy as a sleepy small town.

Speaking of commenting, Von Trier came under a lot of attack about the film being anti-American. It is so, but more on the track of being anti western, obsessed as we all are with our ideas of debt and payback.

Tom (Bettany) is the self-appointed chattering classes of the Rocky Mountain town of Dogville. When fugitive Grace (Kidman) stumbles into town on the run from gangsters, he convinces the townspeople to let her stay, bartering a bargain that she'll work for them all in return.

The police come a few times, notices are pasted up that their fugitive is dangerous, and slowly they begin to exact more payment from her, including most of the men in the town systematically raping her and the decision being taken to chain a heavy weight to her neck to keep her from escaping.

One by one, everyone around her reveals their cruel nature and takes advantage of her because of either her beauty or her vulnerability until Tom calls the final gambit, thinking he's doing everyone a favour, instead giving Grace the chance to get her own back.

The final scenes of gangsters slaughtering the townspeople and burning the buildings also seem part of the commentary on America - a society obsessed with revenge. While Grace's conversation in the car with the lead gangster (Caan), who's turned out to be her father, doesn't make much sense (it's an argument about who's the more arrogant, in which Grace apparently accepts his offer of sharing power by ordering the whole town destroyed and everyone shot), watching his henchmen blow away Vera's kids with machine guns one by one is sickly satisfying after they way they've all treated her.

The performances are very good - not overstated like in a stageplay, and John Hurt's exuberant narration, like he's doing the voiceover for a sweet and innocent children's story, add a level of bite to the cynicism.

It's just not that clear what von Trier's motivation or message is, but any denial that his film is anti American is effectively killed off by the end titles; images of poverty, death and corruption throughout American history to the strains of David Bowie's Young Americans.

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