193 of 221 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2004
Von Trier has never been to America and has been known to have said that he is afraid to visit the U.S. With this in mind, it seems a little audacious if not viciously self-indulgent to make a film about the ugliness of human nature set in an American village.
Critics have pounced on this feature of the movie, accusing von Trier of anti-Americanism. I feel such paranoid jibes completely miss the point: although Dogville is set in a fictional village in the Rockies during the Depression-era, it really could be any place, any time. It is anti-human-ugliness. The tagline reads "A quiet little town not far from here", and the sparse stage set reinforces that point. The viewer's imagination is meant to fill in the gaps, making Dogville their home town for nearly three hours.
The theme veers around Grace (Nicole Kidman) arrives, seeking shelter from pursuing gangsters, the natives are reluctant to help. With the assistance of a local 'philosopher' (played by Paul Bettany), she eventually persuades the inhabitants to relent, and they grant her a two week trial period. During the fortnight, she manages to win the villagers over by performing good deeds, but gradually they begin to take advantage of her kindness and the rot sets in.
This is an extremely long film, but it is definitely worth the effort. It is an allegory of staggering proportions, it deals with virtually every aspect of humanity and some of the most fundamental questions people can face, whilst maintaining a lightness of touch that makes the mental workout more than bearable. Did it have to be 3 hours? No. But nor did the Matrix or LOTR or the Titanic.
So empty the tank, order a pizza and coke, and settle down for 180 minutes of cinematic genius.
45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
DOGVILLE is unlike almost any film you will see. Writer Director Lars von Trier once again has dared to pry open the truths concealed by conventional facades to examine the human condition, the plight of human survival in a world populated by intimidated individuals who only define their public identity by affiliating/identifying with the Norm. In so many ways this story with a Prologue and Nine Chapters is a morality play ad as such it is piercingly poignant and superbly constructed. This film is a minimalist film: the 'sets' are diagrammed lines on the floor, the props are spare, the action all taking lace on a sound stage that appears like a Joseph Cornell box.
The Depression Years in America, a time of gangsters, poverty and minimal communication of world events to the tiny towns on the Midwest. Dogville is a rural small town in the Midwest peopled by what appear to be good folk. Into this scene enters a beautiful girl on the run Grace (a luminous Nicole Kidman) who seems to be in flight from gangsters. The town's philosopher Tom (Paul Bettany in an extraordinary performance) finds Grace, hides her in the town's mineshaft (over the door is the inscription 'Speak the Truth'...), and convinces the townsfolk to harbor her. In exchange for this kindness Grace must do some work for each of them everyday as a gesture of good will. When the police come looking for Grace later, the townsfolk still protect her but the price is doubling the amount of work she must do in reparation. Slowly this town of kind appearing folk become wary of Grace, start lies about her, abuse her sexually and physically, and eventually fetter her as their prisoner. Tom advises her to address the townsfolk with the whole truth of how the individuals in the town, quite apart form acting as a group, have been secretly treating her: the truth will make you free sort of confession. From that point the story turns and the ending is so very powerful that even hinting at the last chapter would rob the audience of the incredible impact.
von Trier has gathered a cast of brilliant actors: in addition to Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany, the cast includes Patricia Clarkson, Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Stellan Skarsgard, Chloe Sevigny, Harriet Andersson, James Caan, Phil Baker Hall, Jeremy Davies, and the eloquent off stage narrator John Hurt. Despite the length of the film (close to three hours) the tension never lapses. The only true criticism of the film is some very unnecessarily choppy editing. The musical score is haunting and the final credits (von Trier tastefully opens his film with no credits at all) are presented with many of the photographs of Dorothea Lange from her Depression Series, and photographs by other artists who show the effects of poverty throughout the world. It leaves you breathless. This film is a triumph, it calls for your involvement as a viewer, and it has lessons about morality and the individual's plight in an angry world. Highly Recommended.
63 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2005
I've gone back and forth between thinking that this film is incredibly sick and incredibly brilliant. I still can't make up my mind, so all I can say is that is the most unique film I have ever seen: a very sick and amazing film, showing the darkness of the human heart when there are no rules to protect its victim. It starts out very slow, but gets good after 30 minutes (it is nearly 3 hours long). The violence of this film surpasses Pulp Fiction, but in a much more subtle way (if I was to say any more I would give the whole film away). The symbolism is worthy of analysis...a film student could write for days about what they see in this film...and afterwards, your mind will be racing and trying to make sense of it all. This is, in my opinion, the best work Nicole Kidman has ever done.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
`Dogville' is one of those films that you really have to see multiple times to really appreciate. Maybe that is the case with all good films, for no film can really be considered a masterpiece after one solitary viewing (or can they?). I've seen `Dogville' a number of times, and even though I was quick to laud it after one viewing alone, it has really settled with me as one of the most important and most controversially monumental films of the past decade, maybe even forever, the more I see it.
With each frame, director Lars von Trier has captured something so organic and so human it is the epitome of brilliance.
Now, I totally understand why people may hate this film, or find it pretentious and `artsy' (I really hate that label). For me, this is BY FAR von Trier's finest film. It is visual impacting, morally aggressive and seemingly conflicted in its direction. The films final moment (where everything comes to a brutal and shocking conclusion) is one of the most visually and mentally exhausting sequences in film this past decade (maybe even forever) and it is for that reason that I feel this film could be labeled confusing or even pointless. It is far from pointless, but I can see why some may draw that conclusion. The films pacing and the way in which the film is painted (the stale, almost vacant visual surroundings) can be off-putting to some, especially those belonging to the A.D.D. generation spawned by overindulgence in Michael Bay cinema. That addressed, it is the pacing and seemingly plain surroundings that add so much depth to the production. The chalk outlined template used as the basis for the films unraveling has so much meaning and carries with it so much weight. Sure, it is definitely `artsy', but it is art with a direct and poignant message.
Let me just say, labeling a film `artsy' in an attempt to discredit it as `trying to hard' or not really being `entertainment' is a joke when you consider the fact that cinema is an art form used as a way to express the opinions and concerns of the writer/director/actors.
`Dogville' tells the story of Grace, a beautiful stranger fleeing gangsters who winds up in the small town of Dogville seeking some sort of solace. Tom, the towns moral guide, persuades the townsfolk to give Grace a chance, and while they are at once skeptical, they let their guard down and welcome Grace into their lives. She performs various odd-jobs for the townsfolk and garners their respect and friendship, until they label her costly and decide to take full advantage of her in order to make up for what she `could' cost them in the end. They eventually turn to tormenting her (in brutal and rather grotesque ways) which leads to one of the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching conclusions in cinematic history.
The coldness is haunting.
The film is a brilliantly conceived piece of filmmaking that really develops and portrays a consistent and powerful line of thinking. Von Trier understands how to create a deeply compelling story with very little at his disposal. The fact that the film is not tied down or overstuffed with any visual grandeur also helps keep our focus on the unraveling plot, which dissects the morality of human frailty magnificently.
To say that understanding `Dogville' means that we understand the darkest parts of our very being would not be an overstatement.
With sublime acting on all fronts (Patricia Clarkson is at her brutal best and deserves to be singled out here) and a steady and capable man sitting in the director's chair, `Dogivlle' is a masterpiece. Few films address such poignant and controversial subjects with the blunt honesty needed to make the audience truly listen to what is being spoken. Sure, it can be aggressive and distasteful to some, but maybe that is because this film says something we don't want to hear.
But maybe we need to hear it.
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2006
I'm uncertain what to make of 'Dogville'. It is a movie that seems to consider secondary the accepted devices of conventional filmmaking - such as a varying pace, acceptable length, or even a fully realised set - in favour of inviting the audience solely to accept its ideas and characters. It dispenses entirely with the accepted visual and aural elements of cinema - after all, there is no background music and everything occurs in a single black space, using sparse props and only chalk outlines for buildings. This means that 'enjoying' the movie conventionally is a difficult if not impossible experience because we must endure these directorial choices and focus instead upon what the narrative suggests. In short, if you're unwilling to invest some thought into 'Dogville' then there's little reason to watch it, because this movie rests completely upon its performances and assumptions of human nature.
However, it's interesting to note how quickly we can become accustomed to the terms the movie sets out for us. In spite of the invariably slow pace that the movie insists upon to draw out its narrative, what initially might have seemed jarring in the absence of background music and the use of a single set is quickly accepted and, by the end of the movie, these conventions are barely missed. This is primarily because of the strength of the performances throughout, and it is the credibility of the moral decay of the town's inhabitants that ensures the audience's interest. However, it is perhaps also unfortunately true that very few of the characters seem to exist for their own sake. With the exceptions of Grace (Kidman) and Tom (Bettany) who seem exceptionally individual, the town's inhabitants - in spite of the details of their lives - succumb to what the director would probably describe as `human nature' in a blandly uniform fashion.
But this is perhaps inevitable given the nature of community to which they seem bound: in `Dogville' the individual is suffocated, if not in spirit then certainly in physical terms, as Grace eventually discovers. This is reflected in excellent fashion in the nature of the set. As already mentioned, the set takes the form of a single black space in which buildings and even the dog Moses are represented by chalk outlines. This, of course, represents the fact that the town's population ensures that everything is visible - even Grace's eventual rape by Chuck (Skarsgard) occurs but metres away from the scene of children playing, and within days this becomes an accepted normality. It is particularly interesting for me that Vera (Clarkson) accuses Grace of leading her husband astray here, when the transparent nature of the town means that she can only be misleading herself - as is true of the rest of the town in their eventual mistreatment of Grace.
Though what is arguably the most mystifying element of `Dogville' is Grace's own reactions to her mistreatment. Although while it occurs it would seem she is simply accepting the lesser of two evils - to accept the abuse of the population of a small town is a better fate than the death possibly awaiting her with the mobsters she has escaped - the movie's concluding scenes would have us believe that she has throughout the movie gone so far as to forgive the townspeople for their mistreatment of her. This is perhaps an arrogance that renders her ultimately unsympathetic as a character in spite of her torments. She uses her plight as a means to retain the moral high ground throughout, and gladly accepts her father's use of `dogs' as a metaphor to describe the towns population that automatically renders her superior to them in her own eyes.
And this final superiority reflects the ultimately cynical beliefs of the director. It would not by much of a stretch to argue that the events in the film are portrayed as almost inevitable, and John Hurt's whimsical and occasionally sarcastic narration certainly suggests this - as if, nothing can be done to alter the obvious course that the movie takes. People - even the idealistic and high-minded Tom - are bound to fail. Therefore `Dogville' rests completely upon its assumptions of human nature: its ideas stem from its pessimism, and it does not so much discuss them as simply affirm them in the form of this parable/allegory. Although it successfully makes use of sparse surroundings and minimal props - I would like to see more movies so driven by character interaction - the fact that `Dogsville' never questions its own assumptions means it is unlikely to convert anyone not already taken to its point of view, and simply exists inside the limits of its own foregone conclusions.
Oh, and the blatant anti-Americanism of the final credits is, although a very cheap shot, seemingly unconnected to the movie itself which, although taking place in Depression-era United States, possesses a universal quality thanks to its minimal set and widely recognisable character-types.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2005
Dogville is a movie that will disappoint most conventional viewers--I myself came close to turning it off a few times. There are a number of reasons for this: its more like a play than a movie (the "set" is really a stage), its extremely long (nearly 3 hours), its heavy on dialog but lite on action, the plot unfolds at the same rate that grass grows, and it doesn't fit into any traditional movie genre. However, if you can wade through all that, you'll discover Dogville delivers a powerful thesis on human nature that has plenty of "bite". The story itself is about a beautiful, fragile woman on the run (Grace) and the town that "befriends" her. Of course, neither Grace or the town are quite what they appear to be. Like a mean dog, the town eventually turns on the pure-hearted Grace--while she struggles to maintain her dignity and ideals. Perhaps the most pathetic character is Tom, the town's erstwhile philosopher and full-time layabout, who has professed his love for Grace (and she for he). Despite his role as the town's moral compass, Tom stands idly by as Grace is increasingly humiliated, abused, and ultimately enslaved by his fellow townsfolk--so much for true love. As the movie reaches its climax, Grace suffers a final betrayal at Tom's hands and the town is exposed for what it is (the transparency of the set itself helps reinforce this point). With her faith in the goodness of humanity gone, Grace ends up embracing what she once shunned. Will Dogville survive? And should it? The ending is appalling, yet satisfying from both a cinematic and emotional standpoint, and a James Caan cameo provides the icing on the cake. If you want to see a movie that showcases the best & worst of human nature, I highly recommend Dogville.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2010
If you have not seen this movie, STOP READING NOW, for real, because this movie has the best surprise ending I have seen in a while. So understand that if you read on, I'm not responsible for blowing the ending.
Ok, so I watched this movie in a political studies class at my university. At first, I hated.. HATED the minimalist set. I was thinking to myself, oh man, I hope the whole movie is not like this. I was waiting for buildings to start appearing one by one. Nope. Not happening. The whole movie looks like a high school play production. I was fuming about that for quite a while. To me, when I watch a movie, I pay attention to the set, because it provides a lot of context for the movie. It really helps set the scene, which is why it's called the SET. Take that away, and sometimes it just looks silly, like when actors are trying to turn invisible doorknobs on doors that are plainly not there.
Then the plot started picking up, and I was able to forget about the lack of a proper set. The main character of the story, Grace, tries to fit in to a small town, works hard for all the townspeople, and in return she is taken advantage of by everyone in the town. It starts with petty jealousy, then overwork, then she is threatened, has her belongings smashed, her money stolen, then rape, then she's chained up and raped repeatedly by just about every male in the town. She tries to to escape and is betrayed. When the townspeople call in her gangster father, hoping for a reward, she settles her differences with her father and uses his power. I was afraid for a minute she was going to cower away, leaving the townspeople unpunished. Instead, she orders her father's gangsters to set fire to the town and shoot every man, woman and child with their tommy guns. At that point I was laughing and clapping my hands, as was everyone else in my class. Then she corrects the gangsters to "shoot the kids in front of the mother, then shoot her." HA! I wanted to give Grace a high five at that point.
Later on, I remembered that I had always wondered what could have possessed German troops in WWII to liquidate entire villages in Eastern Europe, and here I was laughing and clapping at images of it happening here in the USA. But Grace had been so wronged, for so long, in so many ways, and those townspeople were so irredeemably wicked, they deserved exactly what they got. I think that is one of the lessons of this movie, that if properly motivated, any person, anywhere is capable of deadly actions.
As for accusations that this is anti-American, I don't think so. It was set in the USA, but it could have happened anywhere. I didn't perceive anything that made this situation as a commentary on American culture, but on humanity in general. And I'm a dedicated Republican saying this. Usually I am sensitive to anti-American propaganda in movies and on tv, but I think this movie's criticisms go beyond just the United States.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2007
Beautiful and mysterious stranger Grace runs from the gangsters and arrives to the tiny town Dogville that sits somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The first man she meets, Tom Edison (Paul Bethany), writer/philosopher (who has not written anything yet) decides to help her and introduces her to town folks. Hard-working and decent residents of Dogville reluctantly agree to let Grace stay in the exchange for some menial services. When the residents find out that she may be wanted by the law for the bank robberies, they demand more of her services and eventually make her their slave. Friendly and honest people turn into the sadistic monsters indulging their vile instincts and enjoying the strongest drug possible - absolute power over a helpless human being.
Dodgeville's visual style comes directly from the 50th TV dramas - minimum decorations, just a few actors, and a lot of text. There are no real houses or mountains on the screen - the main street, the benches, the bushes, the houses of the residents are marked out with a chalk outlines on the stage. We see some chairs, beds, and desks. There are no walls or doors to cover what happens behind them - all is opened for us to see. Director's craft is fantastic - you soon forget unreality of the sets - impressiveness of close-ups, usage of light and different angles are fantastic. Several film's images should be studied in the film schools. One of them is the shot of Grace trying escape Dogville and hiding in the truck full of apples. She thinks she is covered and safe and nobody could see her...Another - shot when the light lit her face and it radiates in a gentle gold - brings to memory the famous candle lit scenes from Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. The actors are all amazing and they are another reason to forget about the unconventional set. Nicole Kidman played the best role of her career and I have to admit that waiting for so long to see her in this performance was worth it.
With all this said I couldn't accept Lars von Trier's "Dogville" as his masterpiece. He may be a genius but an evil genius. He is a cold and calculating master of provocations. Each frame of Dogville is a masterpiece and I am ready to admire and applaud to every one of them. Unfortunately, put together they contain nothing but misanthropy, hatred and contempt for all humans with only one exception - Mr. Von Trier himself. I kept asking myself while watching Dogville why he hates us? Not just the town folks of Dogville and not only America but the whole human race. What is it, genuine pain or the evil laugh in which we hear that we all deserve our Hell?
Von Trier is a brilliant director, "Dogville" is a phenomenal film but I just cannot agree with his depiction of all residents. There were children (one of them just an innocent infant who could not be hold responsible for the sins of his parents) and a crippled, helpless girl.
This is not the first von Trier's film I've seen. His "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark" are very difficult to watch. They, too, deal with humiliated and tortured innocence but there was hope in those two films. The heroines went through unthinkable trials and tribulations but there was light in the end, catharsis. There is no catharsis in "Dogville" - bitterness, hopelessness, despair, anger, and the question to the writer/director -who are you to judge? You are the one who came up with all these monsters in the first place.
I understand the whole story is an allegory of power and how easily it turns seemingly decent people into monsters. As Lord Acton said "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely" but I simply refuse to accept von Trier's message that the whole world MAY BE Dogville. I refuse to believe that an outsider in a desperate need of help will be treated by ALL with no exception members of a tight community in such way the citizens of Dogville treated Grace.
Directing and acting - 5/5 ; message 1/5
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2014
Format: Amazon Instant Video
Those who disliked this film obviously cannot appreciate an excellent portrayal of the ugly truth involved with human nature. Sorry, but if you're looking for an action-packed regurgitation of the popular Hollywood editions, then continue on your search. This film is very "play-like", as someone mentioned. The narrative and lack of 'specific' scenery allows you to not only to see it all, but to focus on the more important aspects of the plot. I actually loved this creative style.
Filled with raw emotion and compelling messages throughout, the brilliant cast of Dogville brings viewers into a strange, yet relatable setting allowing us to experience the overwhelming emotions that are based in reality. 3 hours of a captivating, and at times painful, story proved to be well worth viewing.
Through Nicole Kidman's performance, one is able to experience the feelings involved with unfavorable circumstances; pain, depression, desperation, humility, forgiveness, vulnerability, understanding, betrayal, and the want and need of human connection.
The ending is so well orchestrated that you can lose yourself along with the previous 2.5 hours once the main character comes to her newfound perspective. Although she suffered innumerable accounts of torture and relentless episodes of pain and grief, in the end she doesn't act out of vengeance or retribution… she simply sees the blatant truth; that some people just can't, and (for the benefit of humanity) shouldn't be saved.
Simple yet incredible ending; Grace's explanation of the dog's fate. LOVE IT!!
Captivating and absolutely beautiful.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2004
I knew that this film was not traditional before seeing it, but I didn't know how non-traditional it actually was. At first, the minimalist set was jarring, but eventually my imagination filled in everything else and I was used to it. In fact, it really made me focus on the characters and not space out by watching the scenery or focusing on some small detail on the set.
As far as the story goes, I don't claim to have understood all the subtext or the commentary it was making on American life, but I still enjoyed it. Probably like others who have seen it, I was rooting for Grace to take her revenge, but when she did I felt a little guilty for having wished it.
I guess that was part of the point of the film - we all have a little Dogville in us.