Finally saw Lars Von Trier's Dogville, three hours of Nicole Kidman being dragged through the mud.

And what can I say? I've no problem with the anti-Americanism, I enjoy a piece of anti-American diatribe as well as anybody, more than most, but I don't think the movie is about condemning American capitalism at all; I think those who cry 'anti-American' are doing so for the wrong reasons. The America on view here is unrecognizable--the people talk like they're speaking translated English, with a huge dollop of pretension, and they behave and think like they're from another planet. I think when you take aim at any target--the Catholic Church, white European culture, America the Plentiful--you got to know what you're talking about; you got to know your target, and take accurate aim. Von Triers doesn't know what he's talking about, and doesn't really care; the ostensible target was picked because it was big and obvious.

The film is stylized--ho boy, is it ever stylized. People mention Thornton Wilder, but another inspiration I'd say is Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller, where another set of strangers converge on a village full of hypocrisy and prejudice (only the villagers in Altman's film are recognizably Americans). And Altman's a useful name to bring up--Von Trier's set is as beautiful as anything I've seen recently, beautifully lit, with subtle lighting effects that suggest the many variations of weather, and he chops up that beautiful space and set with nervy jump cuts and wildly swinging handheld shots. Why go for an open-space set when you cut up all that space with your editing? That's Von Trier's perversity speaking, and in this case I think it doesn't work.

The actors are mainly very strong, but they don't play characters that make sense--though Patricia Clarkson and Miles Purinton (who plays her eldest son) stand out. Kidman is perhaps the prettiest doll Von Trier has gotten his hands on to date, but her character here remains pretty and doll-like, despite the abuse, and by film's end her character leaves the realm of human plausibility altogether. There are several scenes that show Von Triers gift for depicting emotional torture--Purinton, Stellan Skarsgard, and Clarkson by turns tormenting Nicole Kidman--but the impact comes from the sheer ferocity of the acting, not from any understanding of the character's personalities or of how ordinary humans interact.

So while this is a very entertaining--though at three hours rather overlong--piece of dog turd, it's not very believable; the moral and dramatic shocks are fun even hilarious, but have no weight. I've enjoyed my coprophilic meal, but it left me wanting something more substantial and satisfying.

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