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Dogville
Directed by Lars von Trier

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Jeremy Davies
Running Time: 2:57
Country: Sweden
Year: 2003
Official Site: Dogville
One seeks in vain, struggling to unearth the defects of Dogville. Disconcerting at first glance, the artistic choices of Lars Von Trier rapidly prove how much the Dane believes in the audience's intelligence. A true homage to the stripped theater of Bertolt Brecht, the film draws its force from faultless acting and writing, served by a mise-en-scène whose genius lies in the capacity to renew a style, avoiding the sketches pre-established by the director in his preceding filmography. An exciting experience of cinema.

The film paints the portrait of an American community lost in the Rockies that slides into cruelty after the arrival of fugitive among them. Initially accepted by the natives, Grace is reduced to slavery and undergoes the worst humiliations from her protectors. Confronted with the growing cruelty of Dogville's inhabitants, the young woman, worn down in her physical and moral integrity, is compelled to reconsider her humanistic theories. Released from her yoke, her revenge crashes down on the village.

Broken up into nine chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, Dogville surprises with its first shots. The credits open on an aerial view revealing the curious topography of this isolated village. The camera descends towards the characters busying themselves, and one discovers that the set is summarized with some pieces of furniture and marks on the ground, indicating the name of the main street and whose house belongs to whom; a silhouette, drawn with chalk, symbolizes the dog, the only disembodied protagonist. For nearly three hours, the audience understands that they will see the actors onscreen with a black background: the walls of the warehouse where filming took place.

However, despite the first moments of discomfort caused by this approach, one quickly forgets the absence of a set. Lars Von Trier favors the strength of the acting. As for the actors, with Nicole Kidman at the head (masterful in a different kind of role, happily playing a glacial and solid woman) they carry film beyond experimental performance. Supported by a voice-over, they make their characters slip in a subtle way: a simple remark, a single biting reply, enough so one understands that the kindness of the villagers little by little reveals the dark side of each one. As for Kidman, here is the victim transfigured as a torturer, merciless but terribly enlightened.

During three-quarters of the film, the Dane seems to paint another portrait of martyrdom Breaking the waves, Dancer in the dark) a violently contradicted assumption in the last half hour. Here he does not repeat his well-worn theme of the victim. Quite the contrary, he innovates by making Grace an exterminating angel whose change of status results from a long reflection on the concepts of good and evil, developed throughout the film, in the course of communal meetings and conversations with the inhabitants with Tom, a failed writer and self-proclaimed spokesman of the town, at the head. Like Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, who left only ashes behind him, Grace's revenge horribly exceeds the mistreatment she underwent.

Dogville is the story of a learning experience of great darkness. Grace, whose first name predisposes her to forgiveness, finally allows herself to be besieged by evil, contaminated by this town where sin reigns under the mask of kindness and Hell is guarded by a ferocious and famished dog (Cerberus). After the destruction of the town by Grace's henchmen, the animal materializes among the flames. Even the child in the film is revealed as perverse. Innocence has disappeared here, if it ever existed. Because in each human being, good and evil lie dormant together. Grace's appearance in ordinary life and without history in this degenerate community which lives isolation upsets its balance. One thinks of 2000 Maniacs by H.G Lewis, the novels of Faulkner and Steinbeck or one by Nick Cave: And the ass saw the angel. The foreign element disturbs the underground order of the laws enacted by the inhabitants. Apparently accessible and generous, they slowly reveal the evil lurking deep in their heart There is a lot to do in a place where no one needs anything thinks Grace, exhausted by the tasks assigned to her. Her presence awakens the demons and shifts the laws of morality.

If Dogville is a universal drama transposable in any place other than the United States, why did Lars Von Trier precisely choose to set up shop in the states? Infra political text shows through and one knows that since Dancer in the dark, the filmmaker likes to tease the masters of the world. Dogville is undoubtedly a post-September 11 film. The 1929 stock market crash weakened the omnipotent nation to its foundation, in the same way that the terrorist attacks made the country reel. Standing behind pious and moral values, the defenders of punitive violence raise their voice and use their power to impose their views, also corrupted as they seem. Dogville is a film about power and what those who hold it can do. The history of the United States was built on the massacre of millions of Indians who were deprived of land in the name of this power that purported to be just and partial. With Dogville, the Danish filmmaker himself seems to have lost all faith in humanity. He shelves his Christian values, which constitutes a strength in his films that were starting to get short of breath.

  Sandrine Marques & Moland Fengkov


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