By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
But the perception of Dogville as armchair anti-Americanism stems from a fundamental misreading of the film, one that allies Trier with abused victim Grace, when it’s clear that his actual alter ego resides in demiurge Tom, who’s positioned, like the ethereal Stage Manager from Wilder’s Our Town, at once inside the action and somehow outside it, trotting Dogville’s perilous high wire between intellectual curiosity and intellectual arrogance. A good way into the film, Tom reveals to Grace that he has finally completed the first chapter of a story, about a woman like her and a town like Dogville. He asks her to suggest a title. “Why not just call it Dogville?” she replies. “No,” he says. “It’s got to be universal. A lot of writers make that mistake.” And so it is that Trier’s Dogville, set in a country he knows only from movies and television, becomes a cautionary, confessional fable for all men in all seasons who would pursue art at the expense of compassion.
I could go on, for Dogville has rarely been far from my mind in the 10 months following Cannes, during which time it has grown only richer, deeper and more complex than I initially estimated. Surely, the extraordinary cast of characters Trier has sketched out, and the equally estimable cast of performers he has enlisted to portray them, deserve closer attention than I’ve so far managed. In particular: Bettany, charming and demure, the brightest kid in town, and a blocked writer worthy of Jack Torrance; Skarsgård, so earthen you may want to plant him; and Clarkson, showing a vindictive menace (in one unforgettable scene) of which few would imagine her capable. Also not to be overlooked is the wide-screen, digital-video cinematography of regular Trier collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle (though the camera was hand-held by the director himself), disinclined to obvious displays of beauty, yet punctuated by overhead shots of the entire Dogville set that are as arresting as any of Breaking the Waves’ so-called “post cards from God.” Then there is Kidman herself, hush-voiced and glassy-eyed as if lost in a private dream, unflinching from the various onscreen tortures she must endure and, generally, doing very little “acting” at all in her most impressive screen performance to date.
But if a single moment stands out from the rest when I reflect back on my Dogville year, it’s the screening of the film I attended two weeks ago, in the company of several hundred other paying customers at the Florida Film Festival, in Winter Park. Here was Dogville testing the waters of small-town America — Trier territory, if you will — and, moreover, with a crowd of cinemagoers whose average age looked to be about 60. Had these people ever even heard of Trier? Or had Nicole Kidman’s (and James Caan’s and Lauren Bacall’s) name above the title been the draw? I’m pleased, if a bit surprised, to report that, when the lights dimmed and the film played out across the screen, this crowd was really digging Dogville— carried along by its sheer narrative force; laughing in all the right, grimly funny places; and erupting, when Kidman utters a valedictory catch phrase in one of the film’s final scenes, into thunderous applause. That certainly didn’t happen at Cannes (where Dogville arrived pre-sold as a front-runner and, perhaps for that very reason, went home empty-handed) or, in all likelihood, in the many other places around the world where Dogville has already had a commercial release, to generally disappointing returns. But here, in the very country this supposedly inscrutable art film supposedly gets all wrong, with the sort of crowd that likely doesn’t know that Dogme 95 isn’t a station on the FM dial, Dogville seemed to touch a nerve. What does that mean? Possibly that Trier doesn’t know so very little about the land of the free — and its moviegoers — after all. And that maybe, just maybe, after two decades of art-house kudos amid relative commercial obscurity, he finally has a hit on his hands.
DOGVILLE | Written and directed by LARS VON TRIER Produced by VIBEKE WINDELOV | Released by Lions Gate Films At selected theaters
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