Being a fan of Bjork, I am familiar with the movie Dancer in the Dark and thus that film's director, Lars von Trier, whom she had a hard time working with during the film's production. To this day, I have yet to watch Dancer in the Dark but after seeing Dogville, I am going to move that movie up on my Netflix queue. If Lars von Trier's other movies are as great as this masterpiece, I think I am going to be one of his biggest fans.
Dogville is the name of a very small and isolated mountain community where the film takes place. Interestingly, the whole movie is shot on what looks like a large soundstage where the houses and locations are represented by chalk-drawings on the ground with minimal props placed across the entire stretch of the area. At first, this style seems extremely jarring and unrealistic but the extraordinary acting and script make everything more alive than its minimalistic visual presentation. Grace, played by an impressive Nicole Kidman, stumbles into the community after running away from what seems to be some sort of gunfight. A disillusioned young writer by the name of Tom finds her lurking about the town and after taking her in, he tries to convince the community to allow her to stay there. In the beginning, Grace's background is a complete mystery to both the town-folks and the audience but it is apparent that she is truly fearing for her life with whatever it is that she is running away from. They all eventually allow Grace to stay but with a little bit of quid pro quo - of course! What follows are truly one of the more fascinating analysis of some of the ugliest parts of human nature. They are truly horrifying to watch and quite demanding to process.
You would think that a movie shot on a static set can only be as exciting as watching a play but Trier's handheld camera was able to capture a lot of interesting mis-en-scene from the simple setup, including a magnificent "map" shot by recording events from a top down viewpoint. Seasonal effects are accomplished cleverly using slight alteration of light and additional props. Brilliant film-making at its best.
Story-wise, the movie offers a lot of allusions to the Great Depression but the real theme here focuses on the idea of power and prejudice and how both can be manipulated so easily. Why is it that people cower behind a group, even when doing so would lead them astray, when they could have maintain their own individual identity to create positive changes around them? Why is it that aggression often yields result while forgiveness and loyalty bring constant downfalls? Why do people judge others when they hold a separate standard when judging their own selves? Is it really okay for you to feel relief/despair at the end of the movie? The answers may not be easy to swallow in Dogville, but the illustrations of such potent human conditions are clearly evident in this magnificent film.
RATING: 5 out of 5