Lars von Trier's ‘Dogville'

There are no cast or crew credits at the beginning of Lars von Trier’s latest film. Instead, a caption announces that Dogville will be “told in nine chapters and a prologue.” When I read that, a question popped into my head: Am I going to be so bored by this hifalutin nonsense that I will be mentally screaming, “C’mon, chapter 9!” before the halfway mark, or will I be so absorbed by an idiosyncratic work of art that I’ll greet that numeral with regret when the conclusion is nigh? From what I knew of von Trier’s work (the fascinating Breaking the Waves and the pretentious Dancer in the Dark), it could go either way.

It went both ways.

In the brief prologue, we learn that Dogville is a tiny town in the Rocky Mountains (in other words, Anywhere, USA) that is barely surviving the Depression, and that its citizens evince a mixture of aimlessness and contentment. The town’s only important business is its apple orchard, but everybody scrapes by. As our minds absorb that information, however, our eyes are learning something else, namely that Dogville makes not the slightest claim to verisimilitude. Not only was it not filmed in Colorado or any similar locale, but the town wasn’t even assembled on a studio set with naturalistic contributions by designers and carpenters. Instead, Dogville was shot on a virtually bare stage with the space for each building merely chalked out on the stage floor-and no solid...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.