DOGVILLE One of the more baffling criticisms levelled at Danish enfant terrible, Lars Von Trier (alongside charlatan, bully, brat, misogynist’) is the one about manipulation. Not because it’s untrue, far from it. This is a man who claims to have made ‘Breaking the waves’ with the sole intention of ‘making women cry’, and his media dealings – from the anti-style as ultimate hype which was Dogme 95 to his disingenuous self-promotion in interviews – show Von Trier as a shameless spin doctor. But surely this is his job? Isn’t this why everyone loves the Coens? Yet it would seem Von Trier has committed the unforgivable sin of playing a game more often associated with mainstream American cinema than the loftier aspirations of the European Arthouse.
So what of ‘Dogville’, passed over at Cannes for its apparent anti-Americanism (an accusation Von Trier denies with his customary impish and utterly implausible innocence)? What to make of the audacious Dane’s latest critic-dividing gimmick – a three hour film made entirely in a giant warehouse with ‘scenery’ consisting of chalk lines drawn on the stage to represent the streets and houses of its eponymous small-town setting?
Well, it’s wonderful. Fifteen minutes in, you notice the setting only to marvel at Von Trier’s mastery of space, the dizzying camerawork and lushly beautiful lighting. The acting, from a very impressive all-star cast, is sublime, particularly the ever-more revelatory Kidman. Most surprising of all, perhaps, is that ‘Dogville’ is mordantly, spitefully, laugh-out-loud funny. The final scene, in which Kidman’s heroine finally faces with her ‘mobster connection’ (not wishing to give too much away) finds James Caan barely able to keep a straight face, in one of the most extraordinary pieces of dialogue you will ever see. It’s powerful, provocative and exhilaratingly sardonic. Somewhere, Lars Von Trier is laughing – at hypocrisy, at capitalism, at condescending Liberalism, at human nature. It’s infectious.