[MOVIE REVIEW]In this violent village, nothing but a dog’s lifeLars von Trier, the director of the acclaimed, disturbing “Dancer in the Dark” (2000), has put out another ingenuous film, which was up for the top award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Once again breaking conventions, von Trier uses creativity in an attempt to define his philosophical as well as political leanings.
At first, the feel of “Dogville” is defiantly anti-cinematic. The film’s mise-en-scene is intensely theatrical, resembling a stage set nearly bare of set pieces. The village in which the story takes place is set to a stark black background, the walls of its houses drawn in chalk. Even the lighting is distinctly theatrical.
But it only takes a few minutes for the film to draw the audience in. The characterizations are largely responsible; backed by voice-overs which actually work rather than detract, the film’s faceted personalities develop quite subtly.
Set in the 1930s, in a secluded American village located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the story revolves around a beautiful fugitive, Grace (Nicole Kidman), who comes across the village in her trek toward freedom. With the help of Tom (Paul Bettany), a failed writer and self-proclaimed spokesman for the village, Grace tries to seek shelter there. After much discussion at the community meeting, the villagers decide to give her a chance ― under close watch for two weeks, that is.
Met at first with reluctance on the part of the villagers, Grace is persistent in her friendliness and helpfulness ― at Tom’s urging ― and in two weeks succeeds in earning everyone’s vote to let her stay.
All is well for the next few days; the villagers seem to like her and her helpfulness. She strikes up a romance with Tom.
However, things hidden gradually begin to surface. A policeman comes to town, warning them about a wanted female refugee they know only too well. The villagers, in exchange for keeping mum, start to demand her help more and more. Grace’s workload for the town soon doubles, and this is just the start.
The heart of darkness lurking at the core of every man, woman and child in town starts to reveal itself. Kindness is relative, Grace learns the hard way, as the town reduces her to slavery. She is shackled, abused, even raped.
In the end, of course, revenge rears its head, leaving the viewer to pick up the pieces.
Nicole Kidman does a fine job measuring up to what must have been nearly impossible expectations from the director. In fact, von Trier penned the film’s script with Kidman in mind.
Although the movie, exploring the age-old conflict between good and evil, seems at times to needlessly drag, viewers are left with a different take on humanity, and a rather horrifying one, at that.
Drama / English
by Park Eun-sil