A lot’s been made of the fact that Lars von Trier entirely shot Dogville in a warehouse, without sets of any kind. Houses are marked with chalk on a black floor, and the background alternates between black and white to indicate day and night. And it’s not that aspect of the film that I object to – it’s easy enough to see past the minimalist set design – it’s the severely overlong running time (three hours!) and inexplicably odd behavior among characters that does the film in. Set in the ’30s, Dogville stars Nicole Kidman as Grace – a fugitive on the run from gangsters. She arrives in Dogville, a small town located in the Rocky Mountains and slowly insinuates herself into the lives of its residents – particularly Tom (Paul Bettany), a kind would-be writer. But as time progresses, the denizens begin to realize the control they have over Grace and eventually use that knowledge to their advantage. Dogville‘s been accused of being anti-American, a claim that’s not far off the mark. Von Trier clearly believes the majority of Americans (or is it just humans?) are ready and willing to submit to mob mentality and – worse yet – that most men have no problems with rape (evidently, in von Trier’s world, the only thing preventing a man from becoming a rapist is the time and effort that goes into it). Without giving too much away, the film’s bizarre transformation into Boxing Helena with better actors is completely absurd and not believable in the least. And it’s such a shame, too, as von Trier does a nice job in setting up the town and people in it; almost every character winds up fairly well-developed, and the town becomes intimately familiar to us fairly quickly (I suppose that’s what happens when there are no walls hindering our view). Still, the film never becomes all-out boring – a testament to the talented actors, with Kidman and Bettany clear stand-outs. While I don’t really recommend the movie, the whole thing might just be worth sitting through to witness the spectacularly cruel ending.

** out of ****

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