Thursday, April 15, 2004


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2004 at Coolidge Corner #1 (first-run; Boston Cult Movie Film Club)

It's frustrating to try to write about movies like Dogville. Even though I strongly dislike it, it is insulated from criticism. It's thoroughly unpleasant, but it is meant to deal with the unpleasant parts of the human heart. The dialogue and situations seem awkward and stilted, but the story is clearly meant as a fable. The way the film is shot reeks of pretension, but also allows for some interesting visuals. And on and on. At a certain point, I see all these justifications for the way the movie is made, and my natural reaction is to think that maybe the problem isn't the movie, but me. What kind of unsophisticated twit must I be to be able to recognize all that's good about the movie and yet still despise it? I mean, for crying out loud, Seaver, you just admitted to laughing yourself silly at Scooby Doo 2; how can you expect anyone to take your opinion seriously when it comes to a serious movie like this?

But I do hate it. Maybe not so much as I hated the only other Lars von Trier film I've seen (Epidemic), but I still find this to be an excruciating three hours. That von Trier had reasons and artistic intent for the things I feel failed does not make them automatically justifiable. The decision to shoot on a mostly empty soundstage, with writing on the floor indicating where walls would be and various bits of set dressing added where necessary, is an interesting one... but does it add enough too offset how completely stupid the cast frequently looks having pantomime so much? By itself, I think it's a nifty idea, but when combined with the twee chapter titles and near-constant narration, it starts to smack of an intrusive director who is, perhaps, less concerned with telling an interesting story and more concerned with making sure people know what a freaking genius he is than he should be.

Then there's the dialogue. It outright stinks. I don't care that it's not realistic - mere realism is often no more interesting than what a person hears standing in line for the movie - but I do care that it's boring. There's not a single memorable line or exchange in this movie. Even given that the characters are meant to be archtypes of sorts and that their interactions are meant to be symbolic or universal, what they say still doesn't ring true. Given how bland most of the conversation is, I'm not sure whether the frequent substitution of narration for action or dialogue is a blessing or a curse. As much as it pushes the characters further away, when von Trier does allow two characters to talk without interruption in the last chapter, it's almost painful - a bidirectional lecture on what should be considered arrogant that had me nearly screaming for the damn movie to just end already.

The real killer, though, is that the central two characters are just ridiculous constructs. Tom Edison Jr. (Paul Bettany) is a lazy would-be writer who sees himself as an intellectual, and seems to be held in disdain by the town, but also seems to control the rest of the population. Under normal circumstances, it seems someone as useless as Tom would be laughed at by the rest, but, no, everyone just goes along. Grace (Nicole Kidman), on the other hand, a pretty fugitive of sorts, is used just as badly by the filmmaker as she is by the town that expects a price for hiding her. She is, apparently, strong enough to run from the gangsters introduced in the first act, but for the better part of two hours on screen she never once stands up for herself. You'd think, at least after the first time she's raped, that she might act somewhat upset. Sure, we're given a philosophical reason for that later, but it sounds like so much crap, the sort of ideologically pure but practically impossible way of living one's life that can only exist in parables.

And maybe this film is meant to be a parable. It almost has to be. But just because it takes the form of a parable doesn't mean it imparts wisdom, or should be totally exempt from the need to tell an interesting story.

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