Dogville; as told in nine chapters and a prologue.
Lars Von Triers' provocative tale of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman who stumbles upon the depression-era town of Dogville. She is fleeing the clutches of mobsters and seeks the townspeople's protection. The town's aspiring writer and philosopher Tom Edison Jr. (another brilliant Paul Bettany performance) calls a town meeting and slowly persuades its members to protect Grace at least for a fortnight. In an effort to give something back to the town that is protecting her, Grace offers her services to any sort of manual labour available. The town argues that what can be done is being done, but Grace pledges to assist each family for one hour each day with menial tasks to show her gratitude. However it is not long before the townspeople become complacent and begin to exploit Grace's kind service for their own personal gain. As the residents of Dogville become crueller and more demanding of Grace she is singled out further from society, which leads to a failed escape attempt. The townspeople shackle her to a heavy weight effectively imprisoning her in the town but leaving her still just able to carry out her duties. All the while her growing but somewhat misguided love for Tom Edison begins to resemble more a relationship of convenience as he finds more interest in the profound actions of the people of Dogville than he does in Grace herself.
This story is one of raw human nature and society as witnessed through the actions and reactions of the folk of this small 30's town. Simple towns' people, who once were persuaded to offer kindness to a woman they had not met, find themselves rising in acceptance of a situation where they have imprisoned a woman quite unfairly. Even justifying the act in such a way that they can remain single-minded to the ethical and moral implications of their actions.
To encourage this tale to ring deep in the audience's soul, Von Triers uses a single closed set, where the town and many of it's features (buildings, roads, doors, the dog) are carefully marked on the dark and bare ground in bold, straight, white lines. Darkness is signified by a complete lack of light (except for focal points on set), and daytime by a bright pale blue surface to the sets edge that illustrates where Dogville ends and everything else (that we never see) begins. Nothing else exists except for the characters and the odd prop such as a chairs, tools etc. Seasons are accurately illustrated (snow falls and leaves a layer on the ground, leaves litter Elm Street and gather near walls), but even doors are mimed in this almost 2-dimensional board game set where the “game” of Grace and the town of Dogville is played out. This closed-set technique serves more than one purpose; as a technique for telling the story the audience focuses much more intently on what the characters are saying and doing than the scene they occupy. Their personalities are understood, and even warmly related to, as are their single-minded motivations. The second is the ambiguity of the set-up, which leaves the imagination of the viewer to create the rest of the scene based on perception of the play so far. One could easily transfer out a character on-screen into a more modern day or even international setting, whilst importantly still believing that they would act just the same in this surrounding as they do in Dogville...
Dogville is a very interesting watch that seems more a combination of book, play and film. John Hurt narrates throughout giving careful insight into each characters actions and motives, then on-set the actors play out scenes either directly to the camera or as a background (with near inaudible dialogue) to Hurt's narration. Lighting is more of a stage affair than the expected movie lighting. Shifts of mood, emphasis onto certain objects or characters and the like are met with bright directional stage-lighting, fuelling the audiences imagination further. Essentially Dogville is more like reading a short story with audiovisual props, than watching a movie. I really liked it, quite a lot. In fact the more I think about it the better I remember it! I never even realised it was three hours long until I was well over two hours into it...