As Dogville begins, the plot quickly becomes secondary to the visuals. The opening scene is an overhead shot of a bare-bones soundstage, complete with chalk drawings that indicate the streets and buildings of the sleepy little titular town in the mountains of Colorado. There are no walls or ceilings, and no grass or pavement. Only chalk-drawn indications of where such appointments might be. The period dress of the town's inhabitants indicates circa 1930. Through the look of a high school play but the dialogue of something far more advanced, we meet Grace (Nicole Kidman), a slender wisp of a woman who happens upon the town as she is on the run from a roving band of badland gangsters. She takes refuge in an old mine (we know it's a mine because it is labeled as such) where Tom Edison, an unemployed writer who convinces the town to hide her in exchange for menial labor, eventually discovers her.
Grace becomes nanny to the children of Chuck (Stellan Skarsgard) and Vera (Patricia Clarkson). She toils in the Hensons' (Blair Brown and Jeremy Davies) eyeglass shop and acts as the eyes for a local blind man, Jack McKay (Ben Gazzara). However, mirroring the laws of supply and demand of American capitalism, as the town folk begin to realize the threat to their town by her existence, they increase her workload. As her duties continue to increase, she begins to realize that she is literally becoming a slave to the inhabitants of Dogville. The women work her to the bone, the children afford her no respect, and the men sexually abuse her, ultimately sapping Grace of any self-worth and dignity. The town of Dogville can't continue to hide Grace however because ultimately the town has no heart nor sympathy for outsiders.
The film's story draws a striking parallel between the savagery and heartlessness of Dogville and the greediness and arrogance of America. Von Trier indicts America's treatment of foreigners, stating that we often treat immigrants as if they are in some way lesser human beings. While Von Trier's accusations may hold some merit and his filmmaking talents afford him the subtlety to cloak his message in a clever metaphor, there is no excuse for the film's 3-hour runtime. We can only take so much of actors opening invisible doors and walking around walls that aren't there. The extremely labored pacing and the antiseptic staginess of the production bury a great story and brilliant acting.
I tip my hat to Von Trier for his originality and clever spirit on display in Dogville. But three hours later, I realized the film is nothing more than three or four brilliant ideas wrapped in the skin of Von Trier's artsy pretentiousness. It all adds up to an excruciatingly dull cinematic experience.
Screen formats: Full Screen 1.33:1; Closed Captioned.
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; commentary; trailer.
* Commentary: With director Lars Von Trier and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle as they provide a scene-by scene description of the film.
* Trailers: Original theatrical trailer.
Number of discs: 1
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