Dogville is a sort of mise en abyme ; a filmed theater play. As a decor; spaces defined with chalk, basic home furniture and cars. The set is a big studio, which walls go black when it is night, and white when it is day.
Obviously sound plays an important role; sounds of inexistant doors getting open and closed, rain, or even sounds of grass being dig out of the ground.
Handheld shot, it is the only applied rule of Dogma 95. Dogville contains many match cuts, however, it isn’t disturbing due to the very unusual setting and composition of the film.
Divided in nine chapters, Dogville is narrated by John Hurt relating the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman) who, trying to escape some gangsters, finds a refuge in the small town of Dogville, isolated from the city, situated in the periphery.
Lars von Trier exploits the idea of “the fear of the outsider” and then make Grace’s character go through several challenges; the first one being a two weeks trial. Indeed, after being rescued by Tom (Paul Bettany), who under the charm of the fragile blond, introduces her to the others and get from them a two weeks period in which Grace would have to prove her harmlessness and goodwill. For that, she’ll do whatever chore is assigned to her, and since Dogville citizens couldn’t find any useful things for her to do, they made her do things that wasn’t done already.
However, just like a Haneke movie things are never that easier. It quickly turns into a sort of vicious sadomasochistic games she’ll be blackmailed with.
Jason (Miles Purinton), one of the seven kids of an unhappy couple, starts the festivities by asking Grace to spank him, and if she didn’t accept, he’ll tell his mother she hit him, but if she does he’ll keep his mouth shut. A perverse but paradoxical game putting pressure on Grace’s psychology.
Things got even more bitter as time went by.
Another paradox rises; with the venue of the fugitive into the lives of those isolated people, she becomes the object of desire of all men, and as mentioned by Liz (Chloë Sevigny), who was before her, the most coveted girl, Grace relieved her from that awful position. However, either they want to admit it or not, the blond woman, towards who all the attention is turned, represents a threat and rouses jealousy.
As it wasn’t enough, Grace gets raped by the men (except Tom, who pretends to be in love with her), as if they couldn’t hold their impulses any longer and as if it was their right.
The movie forms a loop where the black-skinned cleaning lady who was presented as the being at the end of the social ladder, started to even herself yell and order Grace to execute all sorts of chores that weren’t supposed to be useful before her arrival. Indeed, most of her contribution wasn’t irreplaceable, but suddenly it wasn’t even enough.
Lars von Trier, explained and even made a hyperbole out of it by putting our main character as sort of immigrant, getting a bad treatment from natives.
Grace embodied a sort of modern Cosette/Cinderella character, or more accurately a Justine from Sade’s novel.
The idea wasn’t how a town was supposed to trust a stranger but how a stranger was supposed to trust a community. A community of dogs, answering to their own primary instincts and desires, dogs constituting Dogville.
In a nutshell, despite its long length, Dogville is a must-see Lars von Trier’s.