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Dogville | review | dvd | Lollipop


by Mike Delano

Lars von Trier is the Danish director that almost drove Björk insane, and now he's out to have the same effect on his audience, if Dogville is any indication.

Simultaneously gorgeous and unflinchingly brutal, Trier prefers eliciting the extremes of human emotions from his actors and his viewers. To say a strong current of sadness runs through his films is too tame, it's more like utter contempt for the human condition. Happiness is fleeting, violence is inevitable, resistance is futile. His themes are Morrissey songs without the happy guitar riff to keep the hairdryer out of the bathtub.

But his work is impossible to ignore, largely because of the absolute top-tier performances he squeezes out of his lead actresses who, like Björk, are sometimes less than effusive afterwards about their experiences. Iceland's baby delivered both her trademark exuberance and wrenching vulnerability in 2000's Dancer in the Dark, and Emily Watson stole all hearts away in Breaking the Waves.

And now, Nicole Kidman, who at this point has to be acknowledged by all but the most stubborn as one of the best and most adventurous actresses working today, steps up to be battered down. As Grace, the mysterious beauty hiding from gangsters in the rural American pit of Dogville, she comes to befriend the dumbfounded townspeople and goes on to live, love, and learn. Needless to say, it doesn't end well.

The film takes place entirely on a sparse, dark soundstage posing as a town, which would seem a cheap stunt if it didn't achieve the obvious effect of stripping the film down to its emotional and philosophical core. The entire cast is outstanding (how many movies can hope to contain Ben Gazzara, James Caan, AND Zeljko Ivanek?!) and amazingly cohesive, which speaks to the overriding theme that no matter the size, location, or make-up of a group of people, they will still bring you down with the weight of their various neuroses, power trips, and insecurities. Camus would be proud.

What takes place in Dogville for 177 minutes demands a dizzying amount of questions and attempts at interpretation, not at all aided by alternately sarcastic and preaching narrator John Hurt. But in the end, the medium is much more fun than the message (Americans suck), and the exceptional performances are always the real reason to take a trip on the Trier trolley.

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