The Nature of the Beast; a Review of Dogville
Famed director Lars Von Trier's "Dogville" premiered at Cannes nearly a year ago and has been playing at festivals, and dividing audiences, ever since. Despite its aesthetic simplicity, the ambitious film may be too long for its impatient American audience. Although its rhythms become surprisingly hypnotic, like many of director Von Trier's other films, including "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark," he's not afraid to challenge and potentially incense people.
Told in nine chapters and narrated in a historical voice, "Dogville" follows the fugitive Grace (Nicole Kidman) as she seeks protection in the isolated, Rocky Mountain hamlet of Dogville during the Depression. Outlines on a black floor designate everything from houses and trees to the neighborhood dog; sound effects take the place of doors creaking open and closed. The initial feeling from the rough appearance is that of an unfinished movie or well staged play, but it doesn't take long to ignore appearances and become wrapped up in the story's intensity and the power of the performances.
The plot reveals a lovely Grace on the run from gangsters, discovered by town philosopher Tom (Paul Bettany). He proposes she hide amongst them, but her undisclosed reason for running makes the townsfolk reluctant to take her in. But Tom, Dogville's unofficial leader, persuades them to let her stay if she'll work for them in exchange.
Slowly, the residents of Dogville (played by Patricia Clarkson, Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgard and Ben Gazzara, among the all-star supporting cast) become captivated with Grace for her elegance, determination and innate goodness. But just as subtly, the people eventually turn on her one by one, for tiny mistakes, perceived slights and petty misunderstandings. At the height of their torment, they...