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Dogville a masterpiece of cinema

by Loren Moreno, Student Life editor

No sooner did Tom (Paul Bettany) hear gunshots in the distance than an extravagantly dressed Grace (Nicole Kidman) showed up in the quaint, depression-era Rocky Mountain town of Dogville. Grace convinced Tom to help her take refuge in the town, but she revealed neither what she was running from nor who was looking for her.

 

To gain acceptance from the 15 underprivileged citizens of Dogville, Grace spent her first two weeks busily applying her obviously privileged hand to all the town’s menial jobs. Her work ethic persuaded the townspeople to allow her to stay.

Grace spent the next year doing the jobs no one else wanted to do. She changed the bed sheets of a mentally retarded girl who managed to soil them every night. She tended the gooseberry bushes and picked apples in the hot sun. She even taught the local children in the Hansen’s residence.

The citizens soon learn mobsters are on the hunt for Grace, and this is why she had sought refuge in their backwater town. Grace worked even harder in order to keep the fickle citizens of Dogville from turning her over to the mobsters.

Grace’s obliging nature soon made her susceptible to abuse. The townspeople took advantage of her by making her do most, if not all, the chores of the town so that everyone else could live a life of leisure. All the men of the town, except Tom, raped her and threatened to turn her over to the mob. Grace was in Hell.

Director Lars Van Trier brings this story to life in the most remarkable way. The movie is filmed entirely on one set, reminiscent of early American stage productions. The town of Dogville is depicted using lines and boxes on the stage to symbolize streets and houses. While this minimalist technique is awkward at first, it grows on the audience within the first 10 minutes of the film. Imagine watching a movie filmed entirely on an oversized Monopoly board.

The gooseberry bushes are symbolized by cloud like drawings, and the local hound, Moses, is simply a line depiction on the ground. As bizarre as the concept seems, the audience is barely even affected by such minimalism. The story is so vivid and real that even the lines symbolizing a dog seem to be alive. Van Trier relies on sound and lighting to make his almost nonexistent set come alive, and successfully so.

The story of Dogville is depicted in “nine chapters and a prologue,” as the Narrator described it. The nine chapters go on for three straight hours of film, each chapter with titles such as, “Tom leaves, only to return.” Like most lengthy movies, Dogville succumbs to the disease of sluggishness, but it is not consumed by it. Instead Van Trier artfully keeps the story alive and well. Very few people even peel themselves out of their seat for a bathroom break.

Kidman is certainly the best actor in the movie. All the players, an international cast, are skillful and are able to compensate for the lack of set. However, one gets the feeling that Kidman is a sunflower in a field of weeds.

Dogville was critically acclaimed at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and was hailed as being one of the great film experiences. Unfortunately it left the festival without an award, despite it being called a masterpiece. Some have claimed this UK/Denmark-made film reeks of anti-Americanism; others argue the film is simply a realistic depiction of Depression-era life.

The movie’s dramatic conclusion sent shock waves through the audience. Grace’s one and only confidante, Tom, soon turns on her as well. He phones the mobsters who have been diligently searching for her, and they turn up in the town within a matter of days to claim Grace for their own.

The story takes a twist when the audience learns that the mob leader is none other than Grace’s father. Grace is left to choose between his oppression and the oppression of the townspeople. She tells the mobsters to “Kill them all.”

 

2004, Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.
 
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