Dogville

on March 26, 2004 by Mary Colbert
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In a stubborn gesture of artistic freedom, writer/director Lars Von Trier was inspired to set this riveting, boldly experimental ensemble drama in America as a response to criticisms by some U.S. press for setting his previous film, Palme d'Or winner "Dancer in the Dark," in the States without having actually set foot in the country. Defiantly, he decided to create an entire American trilogy, with "Dogville" as the first installment.

Set in the 1930s, the story opens with the arrival of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious, beautiful fugitive on the run from gangsters, in the small Rocky Mountain community of Dogville. Initially suspicious, the townsfolk are persuaded to give her a chance by Dogville's self-appointed spokesman, Tom (Paul Bettany). Through arduous chores, the affable Grace gradually succeeds in winning approval, but as the stakes increase the villagers, corrupted by greed, power and other vices, demand a higher price. Exploited and chained, she is subjected to physical and moral degradation. For Grace, in a brilliantly understated performance by Kidman, it's a journey from town favorite to pariah. And in the dramatic denouement, she does have one more card left to play.

Von Trier doesn't miss a beat in the rhythm of this audacious theatrical drama, superbly performed by the entire ensemble cast and poignantly underscored by John Hurt's narration--frequently in the guise of an ancient Greek chorus.

It's a pity that the political point-scoring at Cannes, admittedly fired up by Von Trier's provocateur stance, has diminished the perception of "Dogville's" artistic worth. "Dogville" is daunting, non-naturalistic and bold. Von Trier has denied it was intended as an antithesis of Billy Wilder's "Our Town"; his concerns in the film are bigger than America-bashing. It's a moral parable for our times. Starring Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzarra, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson, Chloe Sevigny and Stellan Skarsgard. Narrated by John Hurt. Directed and written by Lars Von Trier. Produced by Vibeke Windelov. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for violence and sexual content. Running time: 178 min

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