Front Page    Contents   About    Privacy     Legals     And Those Sheep               email twitter

Von Trier Higher Flier Than Critics Desire   Apr2 2004

Filed under De Arts |

Dogville Bites.

Great Dane tale darkens ciné illuminati doorway.

Dogville caught U.S. film reviewers like stunned dogs in headlight glare.

Intangibles of a great film winked elusively through the directed downplay of Dogville’s staid delivery.

Patrons shifted uneasily, personal prejudices starkly mirrored (Dogville left no place within to hide), while box-office boffins writhed outraged with self-righteous contempt.

Dogville’s simplicity, purity, honesty and intensity blazed from theater screens – incident ineffectual upon cool-shades conceit of our saddle-weary ciné denigrators, eyes glazed, minds feverishly composing scathing demolitions, willfully precluding years of visionary craft, sweat and tears and artistry magic of such adept artisans they deigned to execute by pen next dawn.

Caught off guard, almost to a carp, they panned savagely – knee-jerk, lest they be the jerk – be it so unfashionable to believe and say what they truthfully saw, or blindly missed, in this stunningly fresh captivating (foreign!) film touching (dare it!) tinsel town home turf.

To be fair, reviewers were numerically in favor of Dogville, but they lined up across a chasm wide as the Atlantic Ocean – hey, it was the Atlantic Ocean! – with mostly U.S. critics frothing invective like everyone east of West Quoddy is a CESM.

His dislike of the United States is so palpable that it flies beyond criticism into the realm of derangement."

Alternatively ..

Von Trier, light years from the formula doggerel at the multiplex, delivers something rare these days: a film of ideas."

Story

Dogville, 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 (Nicole Kidman) 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 its yoke, her revenge crashes down on the village. [Marques & Fengkov]

Technique

Dogville surprises as camera descends to a film set comprising mere chalk lines delineating houses of Elm Street, Dogville, with odd pieces of furniture on the otherwise bare stage. Initially this ‘cardboard mockup’ of a movie is held together by a gently sardonic narrative persistence from British actor John Hurt. Potentially the main character, certainly a pivotal, metaphorical mainstay, Moses the dog, spends all but final seconds of the film as a chalk outline! Never has so menial a prop spellbound an audience for 177 minutes.

Problem

The critics. Trapped by consensual mindset they savage Danish director Lars Von Trier, reflexively, defensively decrying a foreigner with opinions (derogatory, yet!) on any aspect concerning their U.S. of A. Chill, guys, nasty towns populate all Earth. Lars aimed it at you commercially, the largest market. Really. Relax.

Seen a few thousand films – haven’t we all? Still, Dogville captured, then enraptured!

Scouring the Internet for confirmation (yep, feeble-minded) that surely, surprisingly, a great film had been experienced – instead stumbled into an assault, a chiming torrent of derision…

Lars von Trier’s peculiar compulsion to humiliate his heroines (and by extension the actresses who play them) has finally crescendoed to a deafening din of indiscriminate, exasperating martyrdom in "Dogville," a daring experiment in heightened performance and minimalist film making that is fatally undermined by the Danish writer-director’s conceit as a narrator.

Von Trier demands that this be swallowed with no questions asked — although he does attempt to explain some of it away with nonsensical narration that is at best emotional slight-of-hand (provided with quiet Dickensian finesse by the unseen narrator).

The writer-director surely had deeper themes in mind for all this, but I didn’t sense what they were, or even care to, because his characters were so ridiculously fiendish on a Biblical scale."

Rob Blackwelder – www.splicedonline.com

Unlike most serious filmmakers who demand your trust, Mr. von Trier solicits it with a supercilious smirk, then mocks your emotional expectations with a teasing ambiguity.

As a contemptuous, nose-thumbing expression of this Danish director’s misanthropy, the movie is relentlessly true to its hateful vision, depicting as a lie the ideal of embracing human community (and especially the cozy, cookie-baking dream of small-town America).

The only true solidarity to be found in any group, it proposes, is through vengeful, xenophobic mob violence. Brechtian distance is further widened by the flowery delivery of an unctuous British narrator (John Hurt), who relates the story in a facetious parody of fairy-tale language."

Stephen Holden – New York Times

Lars von Trier’s Depression-era fable has been labeled "anti-American," but it’s even worse: It’s antihuman.

To Lars von Trier, humanity is the cancer. Von Trier’s "Dogville" faces charges that the Depression-era fable, set in a rural town in the Colorado Rockies, was anti-American. It is. But anti-Americanism is a small matter when a movie is antihuman.

“Dogville" is as total a misanthropic vision as anything control freak Stanley Kubrick ever turned out. Von Trier, for all his studied technical incompetence, is just as deliberate a filmmaker as Kubrick, but his misanthropy feels both more virulent and more conscious than Kubrick’s chilly demonstrations of technical proficiency."

Charles Taylor – www.salon.com

Lars von Trier exhibits the imagination of an artist and the pedantry of a crank in "Dogville," a film that works as a demonstration of how a good idea can go wrong.
There is potential in the concept of the film, but the execution had me tapping my wristwatch to see if it had stopped. Few people will enjoy seeing it once and, take it from one who knows, even fewer will want to see it a second time.
["..and take it from someone who knows.."?? ‘Of course he’s the messiah .. I should know, I’ve followed a few’]

In his town, which I fear works as a parable of America, the citizens are xenophobic, vindictive, jealous, suspicious and capable of rape and murder. His dislike of the United States (which he has never visited, since he is afraid of airplanes) is so palpable that it flies beyond criticism into the realm of derangement. [Just thought he would throw in that ol’ chestnut, that overused bio’ extract, to further demean von Trier. It’s un-American to not fly?]

Von Trier could justifiably make a fantasy about America, even an anti-American fantasy, and produce a good film, but here he approaches the ideological subtlety of a raving prophet on a street corner. [Upsize that abuse to vitriol, sir?]
The actors (or maybe it’s the characters) seem to be in a kind of trance much of the time. They talk in monotones, they seem to be reciting truisms rather than speaking spontaneously, they seem to sense the film’s inevitable end. [Sorry Rog, Lars overlooked that Will Smith-Eddie Murphy excruciatingly endless draw-no-breath machine gun barrage of cockamamie.]

Lars von Trier has made some of the best films of recent years and was guiding force behind the Dogme movement. But at some point his fierce determination has to confront the reality that a film does not exist without an audience. "Dogville" can be defended and even praised on pure ideological grounds, but most moviegoers, even those who are sophisticated and have open minds, are going to find it a very dry and unsatisfactory slog through conceits masquerading as ideas.

Roger Ebert – Chicago Sun-Times

"Says everything it wants to say early on, but then repeats it all endlessly." Jeff Vice – Deseret News

"Artifice without true artistry…the writer-director means to excoriate American hubris, of course, but what he makes all too evident is his own." Frank Swietek – One Guy’s Opinion

"Drab, schematic, didactic (we are talked down to with nonstop narration) and strikingly self-indulgent, since it diddles with an idea that Rod Serling could have dramatized in 22 minutes." Gary Thompson – Philadelphia Daily News

"Running a painfully long three hours, Dogville is pretentious with a capital ‘P.’" Steve Rhodes – SR’s Internet Reviews

"There’s nothing static about [Von Trier’s] technique, but everything else about the movie is dreary and closed off." Peter Rainer – New York Magazine

"Its problem is that while its concepts are interesting, its content is only marginally so… Too subdued and stagy, the dialogue stilted and unreal, the performances mannered." Eric D. Snider – ericdsnider.com

"Philosophy and politics aside, von Trier has forgotten to make a movie worth watching, create a single sympathetic character or write dialogue that isn’t prattle." James Verniere – Boston Herald

"You get the feeling that von Trier, up on his soapbox, couldn’t find it in his heart to make some necessary cuts. He should have thrown his ego to the dogs." Phil Villarreal – Arizona Daily Star

“… an experimental film that went as badly as one of my high school chemistry labs." Willie Waffle – wafflemovies.com

Yowser! Remove this from ‘ten movies to see before I die’ list, surely?

I’m sure we’re on the same planet as film critics, but maybe they saw an entirely different movie called Dogville. Or is it people just can’t agree on the color of blue sky.

While no-one stood up for Grace in Dogville, some reviewers, not blinded by their own light, were prepared to say what they saw – and not feign weary sophistication, or protest (too loudly?) a populist xenophobic spin:

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."

Sandrine Marques & Moland Fengkov – www.plume-noire.com

With ‘Dogville’, once again von Trier has rewritten the language of cinema, appropriating the barebones look of his sets from Greek tragedy or the agitprop theater of Brecht, and punctuating his story with chapter headings and acerbic narration (brilliantly voiced by John Hurt) as though the film were some Victorian novel.

The effect is both to make Dogville invisible, so that viewers can literally see through its façades to the true natures of its inhabitants, and also to transform it into a timeless, allegorical space onto which viewers can project all manner of myths.

For ‘Dogville’ is all at once a revenger’s tale, the tragedy of a suppliant refugee, a parable of New Testament forgiveness and Old Testament wrath, a blues riff on down-and-out life, a Lynchian exposé of small-town evil, and, most importantly, a damning illustration of how easily those in power can be tempted to abuse and exploit."

Anton Bitel – www.movie-gazette.com

Lacking an actual movie set, there are no distractions from the fall of Grace (Kidman), who becomes a virtual slave to Dogville townspeople in a bid to be accepted. But when her past threatens their future, the small-minded citizens soon show their true colors.

That these might be red, white and blue has enraged some critics, who have attacked the movie’s apparent anti-Americanism.

But while von Trier delivers a damning indictment of greed, power and moral hypocrisy, it may be more accurate to accuse him of hating humanity, rather than the United States. And the closing credits sequence – Depression-era pictures of the poor accompanied by David Bowie’s Young Americans – even suggests his feelings may be of pity rather than loathing.

But for all the ideas being examined, it works as a compelling drama too, and the acting is excellent. Paul Bettany brilliant as the cod-philosopher attracted to Kidman’s sensual saintliness, while she shows a depth and vulnerability previously only hinted at – lending nuance and likeability to what could easily have appeared a caricature. In this – as much as its stark scenario and cruel conclusion – Dogville is a shock to the system."

Nev Pierce – BBC

Didn’t anyone tell Nicole Kidman you don’t solidify your star power by starring in a three-hour art film for Danish loose cannon Lars von Trier?

There are times you want to get medieval on the ass of the writer, director and camera operator. They’re all von Trier.

Von Trier is a genuine talent. Despite the stagy set, his camera moves with a fluid elegance no computer could match. Even actors who claim he drives them crazy compete to work with him. In small roles in Dogville, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Ben Gazzara, Chlo Sevigny, Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgaard, and John Hurt narrating, each make distinct, devastating impressions.

Von Trier is unsparing in his critique of capitalism. Drama majors will know von Trier is using alienation techniques popularized by Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright who sought to break the illusion that comes with developing feelings for a character. Brecht wanted audiences to think, to stay detached and uncoddled.

In the last part of Dogville, von Trier pulls off a daring stunt that forces us to detach from Grace. It’s a scene of shocking gravity, and Kidman is up to the challenge, ending the film in a blaze of brutal glory.

For all the plot detours and dead spots, this is strong, stinging filmmaking. Von Trier, light years from the formula doggerel at the multiplex, delivers something rare these days: a film of ideas."

Peter Travers – Rolling Stone

A diverse world of ancient, culturally-rich civilized nations exists outside of the US of A. What they know of America they have learned from its newsreels, magazines, television – and FILMS.

A foreigner simply, acutely, illustrates the USA using it’s very own cultural currency, provoking an indignant calamity as though an un-Christian fanatic had flown one of America’s own fully-fueled films into the Hollywood sign.

We await a Rose Garden briefing, slating Sweden and Denmark now among the beleaguered league of North Korea, Iran, France ..

" Look child! The doyens of fashion deride the Emperor for wearing no clothes."

"But Mother, the Emperor wears beautiful clothes."

[ In his blissful naïveté this reviewing tenderfoot thought initially, perhaps, as Dogville unfolded, he was watching some sort of adult Dr. Suess noire-Gringe presentation. But I would keep such thoughts to myself.]