Monday, November 22, 2004

DVD: Dogville (2004)

Prologue: In which the author expresses some general thoughts on director/egomaniac Lars von Trier

I put off seeing this movie because I’m not a fan of von Trier’s work. My reactions to his earlier films have been identical. There’s an initial emotional impact (stun, v., to make senseless as if by a blow) that gives way to “Hey-wait-a-minute” by the time I’m passing the concession stand. von Trier specializes in crass emotional manipulation masked with Scandinavian hauteur. But I can still feel his grubby hands pawing my heartstrings. And I don’t like it.

Chapter 1: Charges of anti-Americanism are addressed

The accusation has been leveled by several prominent critics including Roger Ebert. Bushwah, as they used to say and should start saying again. It’s obvious that von Trier doesn’t like America very much, but he doesn’t like anywhere very much. He won’t even go to Cannes to accept an award, for Christ’s sake.

Chapter 2: The film’s central conceit is exposed as wafer-thin

But his critique of America – which is not the same as being anti-American – is glib and superficial. He raises some interesting points about what he sees as the American way of life, but delivers them in the kind of puerile allegory I’d expect from a neurasthenic teenage girl. “Dear Diary, People are SO MEAN!! I’d like to show them what would happen if they took their actions to their logical conclusions!! Then they’d learn!!” Followed by a bunch of crap about unicorns.

The issues he brings up are worthy of discussion, and they can be dramatized. But the path he chooses demands that they be dealt with in the most simplistic of terms.

Chapter 3: The casting proves to be a problem

von Trier got away with his nonsense before because he was smart enough to cast actresses who were essentially unknown commodities (Bj√∂rk and the debuting Emily Watson) as his preyed-upon waifs. We didn’t know these women, so it was easy for him to play the savage puppet master. With Nicole Kidman as his lead, he can’t hide the strings. Her presence reveals the contrivance of the enterprise.

Plus, she’s too old for the part.

Chapter 4: Some good is found in the production

I did like the theatricality of the film. (It was shot on a soundstage with no set.) von Trier knows that pushing the movie in that direction will make it easier to swallow; at least it kept me distracted for a while. And John Hurt’s curdled narration works wonderfully well. It achieves what von Trier wants, which is to make the movie feel like a fable complete with moral.

Chapter 5: The last stone is cast, and the post ends

But fables aren’t THREE HOURS long. What makes it worse is knowing exactly where it’s going every single minute. Lars only has two endings in him: either his long-suffering heroine finally kicks, or everyone else does. It’s not hard to divine which one would prevail in this outing. Especially when the sequel was announced long before this gloomfest ever screened.