2004-04-30 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

MovieScope By Robert Snyder


‘Dogville’ – Our Town Upside Down

"Dogville" is Frank Capra’s worst nightmare: Apple-pie Americans depicted as hateful, denizens of Hell. Here is a horrific vision that, despite its artistic pretensions, is simply untrue. Wouldn’t you know that the film maker responsible, Danish writer-director Lars von Trier, has never been to the United States. Let’s hope he stays in Denmark.

What’s amazing is that the incredible cast (Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Ben Gazzara, Chloë Sevigny, Philip Baker Hall, Blair Brown, John Hurt, to name a few) is doing its damnedest to make the upside-down "Our Town" work. And, the writing is often astute and perceptive (though always cynical). But, where it’s all headed is awful.  

The three-hour film is staged as a bare-bones theatrical production, with stark makeshift sets in a claustrophobic gymnasium. Shot on digital video, much of the footage is from God’s point of view, looking down on the petty players in life’s little horror show.
  As narrated by Hurt in fairy-tale language laced with contempt, we learn that pretty pampered Grace (Kidman) is on the lamb from the law and a group of gangsters. The citizens of the impoverished backwoods hamlet of Depression-era Dogville take her in and, at first, seem the epitome of altruism as they pledge to protect her at great risk to themselves.


But, as times passes, the Dogvillagers turn ever uglier. Far more than the locals in the famous "Twilight Zone" episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," they display a baseness, selfishness and cruelty which, von Trier is saying, has a distinctly American stamp. Even the "Wonderful Life" George Bailey of the piece, Tom Edison, Jr., (Paul Bettany) is a two-faced hypocrite who, by seeming to fall in love with her, leads Grace to the slaughter. At the film’s end, the supposedly innocent heroine has been exploited by every adult and child in Dogville. In fact, she has become the village slave and unpaid prostitute, wearing a heavy metal collar and chain.

However, von Trier his more unpleasantness up his sleeve when Grace enacts her revenge Hollywood-style after she reunites with her gangland roots.

Thank God for Tony Soprano.

If you want to see Americans degraded at a time when our soldiers are making the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, sit through 177 minutes of Lars von Trier’s carefully crafted cinematic dog do-do, "Dogville." Arff!


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