Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dogville Review (2003)

I just watched Dogville for the first time and it was an interesting experience:

So first order of business:

Dogville stars Nicole Kidman in a compelling story about a woman on the run from a mysterious dangerous man, who seeks refuge in a small mountain town in Colorado. Paul Bettany, the town's self-appointed moral leader, decides that his pet project will be to convince the town to take her in and see to it that she's safe. Things work out for a while but beging a slippery slope downhill as the captors step up their search and the town demands more from their refugee in exchange for her safety.

It's a compelling story, but a couple things distract from the story. The main thing that take away from the story is that due to a possible traumatic falling out with a set designer in his early childhood, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier seems to have an unhealthy antagonism towards the idea of using sets or props in films. A little backstory: A while ago, Lars von Trier actually coauthored a rediculous and elitest manifesto, called Dogme 95, which insisted most films sucked because, god forbid, they use lighting, sets, props, and soundstages to artificialize film with illusions. While one can argue that Hollywood is going a little CGI-crazy these days, it surprisingly achieves the same effect of visual disinterest in the viewer when you decide to forego sets and props entirely. In essence, what Von Trier has is a stageplay that's been captured on film and it stands out as little more because he's not taking advantage of the medium he's using. There are many ways to use props and stage design to achieve varying degrees of abstract or realistic design and most of those options are better than using none of them at all.

I can see one benefit to this set-up: It enforces a thematic riff that that people are aware of each other's abusive behaviors and don't do anything about it. The passivity of the town in one scene where Nicole Kidman's character is raped has some power to it, although we supposedly believe that there's a stand-in for a closed doorwat in the way. Ultimately, however, what this comes down to is Von Trier's adherence to his own manifesto (which he didn't stick to entirely) is shooting himself in the foot.

The other complication is some of the things Lars von Trier has said in interviews in which he disclosed that his title for this trilogy of his (I'm not sure whether the third part has come out yet, but Bryce Dalls Howard starred in Part II) is the U.S.A. trilogy, which is a very bold statement that can be taken in a lot of negative ways. Some have made references to 9/11 although I'm not in the "everything has to do with 9/11" camp. This is made all the more controversial by the fact that he's never even set foot in the United States, so it ends up being his very misguided judgement of the American people as a group who will abuse, enslave, rape, and dehumanize any visitor that comes to their town.