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Dogville Von Trier hits us squarely between the eyes with another tale about a fiercely tough and horrifically tortured heroine (see also Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark). This one is about Grace (Kidman), a woman who wanders into the isolated Rocky Mountain hamlet of Dogville during the Depression. The town's residents don't know what to make of her, but young Tom (Bettany) urges them to give her a chance. After two weeks she's part of the fabric of village life, helping Vera (Clarkson) teach an increasing brood of children and assisting her husband (Skarsgard) in the apple orchard; working with Liz (Sevigny) and her mother (Brown) in the family business, while teaching her brother (Davies) how to play chess; being eyes to a blind man (Gazzara), hands to a shop owner (Bacall), a page-turner to an organist (Hogan) and a mother to a loner (Ivanek). And of course, she's a muse to the budding writer Tom, while helping his hypochondriac father (Hall) come to terms with his health. It's all going very nicely until the townsfolk hear that she's wanted by the police. Suddenly, the darker side of human nature rears its ugly head.

On the surface this is a film about violence and intolerance in society--America to be specific. Von Trier's brilliant script peels back layers as it examines these upstanding people who struggle to control lusts and urges--then deny there's any problem. As the events escalate, the whole situation takes on almost biblical proportions (and refuses to let those outside America off the hook). This is realised on screen in a strikingly original cinematic style that draws on Thornton Wilder's Our Town with its knowing narrator (Hurt) and a set made of almost nothing! Lines on the floor show where the streets and houses sit, with sparse props and labels everywhere to tell us what's what. Besides the obvious metaphorical and theatrical implications, it looks absolutely stunning on screen. We can see through walls as Von Trier's camera whirls around the action, edited together in sometimes jarring ways that focus our attention on both details and subtext.

Meanwhile the cast is impeccable. Bettany shines as the town's spokesman--a wannabe philosopher who isn't equipped by his upbringing to do the right thing. Clarkson gets a couple of very strong scenes (not nearly enough) as a woman who jumps to all the wrong conclusions. And Caan's one scene is marvellously disorienting--and so telling it almost hurts to watch. But this is Kidman's film, and she delivers an astonishing performance--brittle, innocent, resilient and tenacious. She's the town's conscience, and Dogville does not like it. Then in the end her character finally makes sense on a larger scale, which makes the final scene that much more shocking and yet true. This is uncompromising filmmaking that's both artistic and powerfully entertaining. Don't miss it.

cert 15 adult themes and situations, violence 26.Oct.03 lff

dir-scr Lars von Trier
with Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Chloe Sevigny, Stellan Skarsgard, Lauren Bacall, Jeremy Davies, Ben Gazzara, Zeljko Ivanek, Blair Brown, Philip Baker Hall, Cleo King, Siobhan Fallon Hogan,Miles Purinton, James Caan, John Hurt
release Denmark 4.Jun.03; UK 13.Feb.04; US 26.Mar.04
03/Denmark 2h57

Town meeting: Sevigny, Davies, Bettany and Kidman.

kidman clarkson bettany
sevigny skarsgard bacall

See also: MANDERLAY (2005)

24th Shadows Awards

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... kidman Troy, Melbourne: 5 out of 5 stars "Wow - just wow. It took a good hour or so for me to get over the sparse staging, but then the real emotional kick sets in ... and wow! This film will either bore you or leave you (like me) utterly stunned and, yes, speechless. Nicole is amazing - Stellan also. Paul Bettany was the only dull point - but he was fine. 24 hours later I am still amazed at this film." (5.Dec.03)

charlie cockey, net: "Dogville is indeed an outstanding film, but warning - it exists in two versions. As well as the complete 177 minute version, there is a 135 minute one, and this is showing in some venues. Check before going!" (15.Apr.04)

Dogville Robert Rosado, Long Island, NY: 5 out of 5 stars "An emotionally rattling, and intellectually stimulating, experience. Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany are the standouts. His Tom Edison is passive (not boring, as someone else said). Kidman's performance as Grace Mulligan is one of her most emotional and engaging ever. Lars Von Trier deserves a directing nod for this masterpiece. Truly one of the best, and most underrated, films of 2004." (14.Dec.04)

Akilis, net: 5 out of 5 stars "This is one of the best movies of the year, I sat through 3 hours and yet time flew by. It is intelligent, frustrating and gives a well-deserved blow to the gut. Kidman's performance is the best of the year; she is innocence yet she isn't. The whole cast was brilliant and Lars Von Trier should be saluted for this masterpiece. Looking at all the year end awards being handed out, where is the one for Dogville?" (15.Dec.04)

2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall