I finally saw Lars von Trier's celebrated and loathed film, "Dogville:"
It's pretentious, yes. And yes, I have to agree with the critic from the Philadelphia paper who said that Rod Serling could have said in 22 minutes what von Trier said in 3 hours.
Yes, it was a lot of egotistical moralizing with mushy philosophy spouted by a mumbling Paul Bettany as Tom Edison, Jr.
And I really liked it. I almost loved it.
Some acting highlights:
Chloe Sevigny bugs me. She's excessively unattractive and a very limited actor (she was great in "Boys Don't Cry" but I've never seen her do anything else well).
Lauren Bacall was wonderful in her small role as Ma Ginger (she's a similarly crusty characater in real life, so it wasn't much of a stretch). Patricia Clarkson was, forgive the pun, smashing as usual (there's a devastating scene where she smashes ceramic figurines that have great meaning for Grace, Nicole Kidman's character. It's an awful scene, very painful).
James Caan shows up for a very strange cameo role at the very (dead) end of the picture. It's a very contrived plot twist, but he and Kidman make it work.
And as for the spidery, beautiful Miss Nicole Kidman, well, she's just marvelous. The beginning of the film is extremely ponderous and I managed to read the Ideas, Travel, and Arts section of the Sunday paper before her entrance. After she appeared, looking incredibly long-limbed and fragile and haunted in a fabulous fur-trimmed coat, I had to put the paper away from there on in (okay, I did peek at the sports section and at the front page, but only peeked).
Anyone who lives in small town America will appreciate von Trier's parable of violence and vengeance. His sly commentary on the treasured institution of the Town Meeting is coldly hilarious. He also writes some very fine dialogue for the townsfolk, capturing a cadence somewhere between Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." Surprisingly it is Siobhan Fallon, best known for her work on "Saturday Night Live," who delivers the dialogue most naturally and convincingly.
You may be familiar with the basic plot line: Grace (Kidman) shows up in a tiny town in the Rockies. She is fleeing gangsters. She is first met by the idealistic, young and handsome Tom Edison, Jr. who treats her with great kindness, and the townsfolk (all 15 of them, plus some children) agree to shelter the fugitive. At first, she is happy to be there and they are happy to have her help. Soon, though, the relationship between Grace and the people of Dogville becomes more and more exploitative until Grace is literally their slave for domestic and sexual purposes. She attempts an escape. She is punished (in a contrivance that will bring to mind the best of Shirley Jackson) and bears her suffering with grace (get it?) and dignity. The end of the film is a plot twist, so I won't give it away. Suffice it to say, Grace changes her mind about the nature of forgiveness and understanding. The final tableaux is bloodier than "Hamlet." Hell, it's bloodier than "Titus Andronicus."
You wish von Trier had provided the character development that would give the ending have more integrity than it does; as it is, he relies entirely on the acting chops of James Caan and Nicole Kidman to achieve what he should have provided in the screenplay.
But you know, I'm still thinking about it the next day, and that's all I ask of a film.