Friday, August 3, 2007
Self-indulgent, depressing, American-bashing, pretentious, self-righteous bore. These are all descriptions I've read in various reviews, even from some of Von Trier's more ardent fans.
And on the face of things, it's not an easy film to want to throw yourself into: it's three hours long, and it's set entirely on a sound stage with chalk outlines doubling as buildings. However, it ends up being a rather inventive and beautifully shot film (in my opinion, it was amongst the best filmed movies that year), although admittedly sadistic and misogynistic.
As for the America-bashing stance that many people take... yes, it clearly does show a bias against this country. And I say... so what? As much as people like to bash Von Trier for having something to say about another culture despite not having been here, it's not like most people don't do that here. How are those Freedom Fries by the way. Tasty? And quite frankly, I think we DO have a lot of problems in this country, and it's interesting for me to see an outsider's take on them. So I have no problem disembarking from the jingoistic "America! Fuck Yeah!" train for a second to get some outside perspective.
In the years since Dogville was released, it seems to have taken on a new relevance, since the film is primarily about our treatment of immigrants, and three years later, we've got everyone up in arms, trying to build fences between Mexico and Texas, and the likes of Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly spouting off their rhetoric to anyone who actually listens to what they have to say.
The plot follows a young woman named Grace (Nicole Kidman), who seeks refuge from some men who are trying to find her. The townspeople at first are skeptical, but they eventually warm to her. She begins to assert herself into the town, but because they did her a favor by harboring her, they begin to expect things of her, and when she cannot meet everyone's expectations all the time, they begin to hold their charity over Grace's head and exploit her for all she's worth.
The film is quite brutal and uncomfortable, but for me, highly memorable. While I realize that this is not a sentiment that is shared by most filmgoers, I find it absolutely thrilling to feel this kind of discomfort while watching a film. I love a film that has the capacity to get under my skin and effect me like that.
Whether you like the film or even have no interest in ever watching it, I think everyone can agree that the cast here, even just based on names alone, is highly impressive: James Caan, Lauren Bacall, Paul Bettany, Chloe Sevigny, Patricia Clarkson, Philip Baker Hall, Ben Gazzara, Stellan Skarsgård, and in the lead role, Nicole Kidman. Personally, I think this is the best Kidman has ever been, and based on her career choices as of late, I'd say the best she will be for a long, long time.
By the time the film wraps and the credits roll over a montage of the downtrodden and poor and set to the tune "Young Americans," I just felt drained of emotion after having spent so much during the film. I can't say that this feeling will be experienced by everyone, but hopefully, someone will seek out the film (or any of Von Trier's other films that I've written about) and feel what I felt while watching this. But skip the follow-up, Manderlay. That's the one where I jumped off the bandwagon, but based on the strength of the three I just wrote about, I'm always willing to give Von Trier a chance.