Dogville

Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Harriet Andersson, Lauren Bacall, Jean-Marc Barr
Director: Lars Von Trier

Never ever judge a book by its cover.

Welcome to the idllyic, laid back and simple town of Dogville. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everybody else by name and indeed knows what they are doing as well. It’s here that Grace (Nicole Kidman) turns up seeking refuge from some very unsavoury characters. Guided by the influence of the local worldly wise man Tom (Paul Bettany), the town folk grudgingly agree to hide away poor little Grace. Sweet child that Grace is she promptly offers herself up to assist in anything that ‘needs doing’. To start with the town folk have no work for her but that quickly changes as they get used to her being around and soon Grace regrets ever offering to help on ‘things that need doing’.

Eventually Grace wins over almost all the town folk through her hard work and lack of complaints, but she fails to please Chuck (Stellan Skarsgard). Chuck is a rough, dirty apple farmer with several kids and a very unconventional wife so Grace tries extra hard to get Chuck on her side. Much to her horror though Chuck’s idea of getting close involves sex and he proceeds to rape Grace on his parlour floor. Grace is visibly changed by this experience and confides in her admirer and confidante Tom. Together they decide to plan an escape so she can to leave the laid back town of Dogville.

However Grace’s escape attempt is foiled with Tom’s aid, the very man who orchestrated it and this leads to her being chained to a heavy wagon wheel which she must drag around with her. This is done to thwart any future escape attempts. Consequently she is now used for everything ranging from cleaning up after disabled women, to fulfilling the male population of Dogville’s sexual needs. Tom stands out as she resists his advances and she wearingly says “You can have me if you force me, like everyone else but if you love me you will wait”. In spite of all his scheming, Tom still sees himself as a righteous, moral man and in his fury at Grace’s remark decides to contact the unsavoury bunch that are after Grace…

This then brings us to our shocking conclusion here in the quiet town of Dogville.

The film is filmed entirely on a very basic film set and comes across as a theatre piece with amongst other things, for example, small structures depicting houses. The direction is actually good although at 177 minutes the film is dragging in parts but still the incredible cast including Lauren Bacall, Phillip Baker Hall and many others, more than compensate for the extremely simplistic approach to the film.

Performances from Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany stand out here as they both breathe plenty of life into their characters, and the ways in which they are changed by the events happening in the town.

It’s a good story, but perhaps if the film had been done in an actual town it would have been a more engaging movie experience. Still, with a satisfying ending and the good acting pairing of James Caan with Nicole, DOGVILLE is worth seeing.

3 out of 6 stars

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