Sunday 3 September 2006

Dogville (2003) - ickleReview (cinema)

Quite simply one of the best films you will ever see. Lars von Trier reinvents allegory for the modern day. Filmed on a bare soundstage with chalk lines marking out a set that isn't there, the visual paucity of this movie is at first unsettling. We hear the scrunch of feet on a dirt track or the sound of a door opening and closing; but we cannot trust the images alone. After a while, the understated flare of the acting takes over, suspending our sense of disbelief.

Nicole Kidman's performance is enchanting. She plays Grace, a gangster's girl mysteriously on the run, who finds temporary asylum in the Southpark-like secluded town of Dogville. At first, Grace finds it difficult to fit in; the townsfolk won't even let her lend a helping hand; they deny that their life could be made any better. But then, as Grace becomes more accepted, thanks to the support of the frustrated writer Tom Edison (Paul Bettany), the people of Dogville begin to take advantage of what she offers them. The purity of Grace and the innocence of the Dogville townsfolk gradually become besmeared as the nine pre-defined episodes progress. It seems inevitable that the gangster Godfather/God the Father (James Caan) will come to reclaim Grace.

Von Trier was co-founder of the Copenhagen "Dogme 95" group of directors who devised a set of avant-garde rules a decade ago known as "The Vow of Chastity" designed to reclaim the new wave in film. Yet Dogville consciously disobeys some of these rules - stating its intention in the mesmerizing opening crane shot, which slowly tracks in from a high-angle bird's-eye-view, all the way to street level. (Dogme dogma states that "The camera must be hand-held.") Despite the loss of "Chastity", the Dogme ethos is never lost: Dogville looks and - more importantly - feels unlike any other film. It seems to be leading you one way, only to baffle your suppositions, leaving you feeling wounded by the end, and lingering with you for hours, even days, afterwards.

Nugget: charming and unnerving; highly-suggestive, without ever being heavy-handed, John Hunt's quirky narrator tells it like a bedtime story, relating choice details which grate against his idyllic tone of voice. A pile-driver is pounding in the foundations for a nearby penitentiary, but it seems that Dogville is too innocent to be harbouring criminals. Outward appearances often hide a grotesque inner vision; but Dogville is beautiful by the very virtue of its darkened grandeur.

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