‘Dogville’ exposes the dark side of humanity

    Perhaps the greatest ironies of both the film “Dogville,” which decries arrogance as the most contemptible of human traits, and its enfant terrible director, Lars Von Trier, are their shared propensities for pomposity and bravado. Von Trier, a Danish-Catholic filmmaker notorious for his “vow of chastity,” shuns the superficial glamour of Hollywood production.

    It is not in this regard, but rather in the message that piggybacks upon Von Trier’s grand, hysterical vision, that “Dogville” has wormed under the collective skins of audiences, despite complaints of heavy-handedness, stark pessimism and bitter sarcasm.

    However, to nitpick over its social didacticisms and outspokenness would be to miss the point — the greatness of the film can be traced not in what it says but more simply in what it is.

    The film is a rather straightforward narrative following Grace (Nicole Kidman), a disillusioned urbanite fleeing from mobsters, who finds a reluctant acceptance and later a chilling malevolence in the small township of Dogville. The film, more or less, is a direct allegory of how spontaneously goodwill can sour.

    Kindly and willingly, Grace subjects herself to the piecemeal labor required as a test to prove her true character to the locals. And even when the town wholly conspires against her and her tasks grow wildly ridiculous and demanding, she holds true to her namesake, barely resisting the dehumanizing assaults on her merciful spirit in the Von Trier melodramatic tradition (“Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark”).

    Here, Kidman is suited for the role. With her glowing, charming demeanor showing the ever-widening fractures of her tragedy and sadness with each new harm, much of the film’s weight relies on Kidman’s restrained performance.

    Where the quality of Kidman’s acting ends is where Von Trier picks up. Fitting the drama into the confines of a soundstage decorated minimally with half-built sets and chalk outlines in place of physical objects (for example, dogs and mulberry bushes), Von Trier reduces the setting and focuses on the dramatic interactions between characters, usually in close-up.

    While it is rebellious of Von Trier to evoke the tone, environment and medium of a playhouse, it raises the question of whether or not the cinema is merely just theater on film.

    The biggest mistake in understanding “Dogville” is trying to find a significant message. Instead, it is a film of extravagant gestures, histrionic dilemma and searing black comedy. It is a film that is excessively blunt and rough in its comedy and meanings, so much so that one would be rightly wary and confused enough to check his or her laughter and see if anyone else is laughing.

    After Dogville’s brutal and violent conclusion, the end credits are paired with portraits of suffering Americana scored to David Bowie’s pop-inclined “Young Americans.” Von Trier’s sardonic humor resounds, showing that he has made a reckless and bold film that is unafraid of going “too far,” a trait that is a rarity in cinema.

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