In the course filmography, this film is described as something “artificial and contrived”. While it is different, there is not much more that is artificial or contrived than in in any other film. The narration by John Hurt, the minimalist set and props seem to to be very much what I have in my mind when I listen to a radio play. The sound effects, particularly the opening, closing and knocking on of invisible doors are as you would hear on the radio. Although the film is nearly three hours long, the division of the narration into 9 Chapters make it easy to watch. The linear narrative is easy to follow without the distraction of elaborate sets and the lighting is cleverly controlled to indicate the time of day and the seasons.
The plot centres around the American town of Dogville and the sudden appearance of Grace, a fugitive from gangsters and her changing relationship with the town’s people over the year in which they offer her shelter in return for work.
I found myself looking for the “anti-American” theme in this story which seems to be a major criticism. My perception was that this could be justified. The film was a microcosm of one view of the American Way."Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”…. could apply to Grace as she sought shelter. The democratic process of the town voting on her conditional acceptance. Her need to work, to pay her way and her acceptance into the community until the town remembered she was different, an outsider, not to be trusted. Acceptance turned to rejection, exploitation and betrayal. By delivering Grace into the hands gangsters that she ran from a year earlier, the town sealed its own fate as she wreaked her revenge and obliterated the town which had offered her redemption but then snatched it away.
This is only the second Von Trier film that I have watched, both with a bleak prospect and dramatic and in this case, I thought, unexpected ending. I wasn’t expecting the resolution of this narrative to be so brutal and final. Definitely not a Hollywood ending.