By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Given his politics, it’s therefore slightly ironic that Trier should choose precisely this moment in history to set his parable of social injustice, scapegoating and the harsh treatment of an outsider — albeit a fair-skinned, red-headed one — in the U.S., while following it up with what is likely to be an even more incendiary film about slavery. There has been some suggestion that Dogville is “really” about the plight of immigrants in Denmark, and certainly the sight of Kidman sweeping floors and emptying bed pans might encourage viewers to interpret it that way.
“As a Dane, you see it also very much as a comment on what is happening here,” says Politiken’s Skötte. “You invite people in and squeeze them like a lemon. Danes have been good about having open doors, but now we’ve slammed them shut in a very unfriendly way.” But, he adds, part of the problem is that the immigrants are largely Muslims who do not mingle, “and so we suddenly have two cultures instead of one.”
If the American government passed a law stating that no one under the age of 24 could marry a foreigner, I tell Jensen, there would be riots in the streets.
“But that’s why I say the Danes are more racial than the Americans,” he replies. “Especially because it’s under the headline that we are civilized here, and we accept anyone who’s different. That’s total hypocrisy. Jesus Christ! Dogvilleshould also be Denmark — especially Denmark, in my personal opinion. I’m ashamed of my country, and Lars is also.”
A n austere and somber city, at least in the winter, Copenhagen seems to be populated almost exclusively by isolated self-communers out of an Anita Brookner novel. In Slotsholmen, the city’s historic center with its wide-open spaces, Gothic brick buildings and untraveled river, there is an Invasion of the Body Snatchersfeel. Cars go by but no one ever honks a horn. Bicyclists sweep past, staring straight ahead like automatons. Only once, when a drunken troll, probably escaped from Christiania, starts brandishing a half-empty bottle of alcohol and hurling insults at passersby on the bridge spanning the Inderhavnen does anyone look up, smile and catch my eye. Otherwise people just gaze into the middle distance, as if no one else is there. You’d think the entire population had taken a pill called Do Not Disturb.
The same atmosphere prevails in the small but luxurious food store a block from my hotel in the much more lively and ethnically mixed district of Vesterbro where, late at night, Muslims huddle together in kebab houses. Amid the piles of gleaming fruit and colorful displays of soft drinks and yogurts, shampoos and magazines, well-dressed Danish women move slowly down the aisles like somnambulists. The characteristic facial expression is introspective and mildly depressed, and the store is almost completely silent. You bring your purchases to the register, they are rung up, and then you go home. Outside the store, someone has stuck a lost pet notice to a lamp post. Only this one says “Has anyone seen my giraffe?” I sense a certain desperation behind the humor.
Of course, once you actually talk to someone — stopping to ask for directions, for instance — no one is friendlier or more courteous than the average Dane, and almost everyone speaks astonishingly good English. But once the conversation is over, the screen comes down. If you jaywalk, you can cover the city twice as fast as the natives, who will stand and wait for a pedestrian light to turn green even if there isn’t a moving car in sight. It isn’t entirely surprising to hear, from Skötte, that when the Nazis invaded, the Danes kept their heads down and got through the war fairly easily.
Given all this, it’s striking that bold, eccentric, adventurous and creative spirits like Trier and Jensen could have reached adulthood dreaming about the “perfect society” of the Soviet Union. If any country could induce daydreams of capitalism red in tooth and claw, with all its dramatic extremes, you’d think it would be Denmark. But then, according to Jensen, both men were “trained in communist thinking,” meeting once a week to study Marx, Lenin and Engels. And the prickly relationship with the States is of long standing. Handing out pro-Soviet communist newspapers, they apparently longed for a much grimmer version of the socialist society they already had — Denmark minus the free speech, material comfort and pacifist foreign policy, and with a world-class history of mass murder thrown in for good measure. Jense claims that his own dalliance with communism was largely a matter of fashion, but that “Lars was more serious. He’s a guy who really means it.”
“I can’t understand it. It’s puzzling to me,” says The Five Obstructions’ Jørgen Leth, when asked about Trier’s politics. He points out that many of the photographs of American down-and-outs used for polemical effect during Dogville’s controversial closing credits were taken during the 1970s by the Danish photographer Jacob Holdt, whose grim view of the U.S. became a “religion,” he says, among Danish intellectuals. So much so that in 1981 Leth himself made a documentary, 66 Scenes From America, that was a deliberate rebuttal of the prevailing view set forth by Holdt. Inspired by the landscapes of Edward Hopper and Robert Frank, it included a celebrated scene in which Andy Warhol is filmed eating a hamburger from start to finish in a New York hotel.