Dogville

8/6/2004

dogvilleLions Gate, color, R, 177 min. plus supplements, Dolby Digital 5.1, widescreen, Street: Aug. 24; $26.98; L, March 2004, $1.5 mil.

Lars von Trier’s films provoke extreme reactions, but they are never easily forgotten. Dogville, his most recent provocation, is an epic-sized morality play that uses seemingly coy theatrical conventions to prevent the viewer’s escape from an insidiously cruel tale of suffering, forgiveness and old-style Biblical vengeance. The film takes place entirely within the confines of the large, wall-less set that comprises “Dogville” (think Our Town, dustbowl style). Unlike certain other von Trier triumphs, such as Breaking the Waves, Dogville thankfully does not suffer from a sense of claustrophobia when viewed on a small screen–thanks to the gorgeously restrained performances of the impeccable ensemble cast, which look even better on closer inspection. The disc unfortunately features no behind-the-scenes featurette, but it does boast a commentary track by the notoriously reclusive von Trier and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (28 Days Later). The two gentlemen start off their commentary referring to test footage they assume we’ve seen (a supplement that was subsequently pulled), but soon get right down to business with an in-depth discussion of the film’s complicated shoot. Mantle serves as a sort of interviewer, quizzing von Trier about his decisions to shoot in continuity by keeping the entire cast on the set at all times to provide background “color” and stylize various shots, creating surprisingly lush digital-video images. Although he is legendarily cranky and eccentric, von Trier proves game for the discussion and provides solid answers to Mantle’s questions, giving high marks to star Nicole Kidman whom he says was the “driving force” behind the production (translation: her participation most likely helped attract the high-caliber supporting cast, which includes Lauren Bacall and Ben Gazarra). The conversation between von Trier and Mantle will be of most use to film students trying to “unlock” the tenets of von Trier’s unconventional style; as for the film itself, von Trier notes honestly that most viewers will either be receptive within the first five minutes or just simply “leave the theater.” Given that this highly ambitious “experimental” film contains a couple of powerhouse performances, not the least of which comes from the radiant-when-suffering Kidman, viewers with open minds should be encouraged to grant Lars an extra five minutes when deciding whether to rest awhile in Dogville. —Ed Grant