En pleine Grande Dépression, Dogville, petite ville dans les Rocheuses, voit ses habitudes secouées par larrivée de Grace, une jeune femme fuyant des gangsters. Aidée par Tom, lidéaliste du village, elle tentera de se faire accepter et protéger par la communauté.
Liant lui aussi souffrance et amour, Dogville sinscrit parfaitement dans la lignée des autres films de Von Trier. En effet, comme dans Breaking the Waves ou Danser dans le Noir, une femme à la bonté sans faille est victime de la méchanceté humaine. Mais si Dogville se singularise par son dénouement, il affirme également sa différence par une esthétique minimaliste, voire abstraite, puisque ses décors, situés dans un lieu unique, sont dessinés à la craie sur un sol noir parsemé de quelques meubles. Explorant les liens du cinéma avec le théâtre, jouissant dune réalisation et déclairages stylisés et dun casting impeccable (N. Kidman, P. Bettany, L. Bacall, J.M. Barr, J. Hurt, C. Sévigny), le film se rapproche également dune fable philosophique grâce à une narration en voix-off intelligente et distanciée, tout en poussant un cran plus loin la réflexion de Von Trier sur les réels fondements de la nature humaine. Helen Faradji
His "Dogville," a parable about how community spirit can either elevate or destroy people, is lengthy chronicle of Depression-era America that's played out entirely on a large, sparsely furnished soundstage. Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall and others play their scenes not on actual sets, but inside chalk-drawn rectangles meant to symbolize various locations. While Kidman's character Grace Margaret Mulligan talks about finding herself in "a beautiful little town in the midst of magnificent mountains," all the viewer can see is a bunch of scattered chairs, a few wooden arches and a blank white scrim that serves as the backdrop. Locations with such picturesque names as Raccoon Road and Elm Street have no raccoons and no elms to offer.
This is, obviously, at heart a theatrical piece that's heavily dependent on lighting, sound effects and, more than anything else, the passion of the performers to put it over. For many viewers, "Dogville" will be nothing more than a curiosity piece that quickly exhausts the patience; for others, it may be a mind-bending experiment in determining exactly where stagecraft and the art of film can intersect.
It could all have been insufferably pretentious -- and at times, it comes perilously close to being exactly that -- yet the movie does have its own bitter humor, a few vividly etched characters and a kind of offbeat flavor that's admittedly an acquired taste.
Unfolding in nine chapters (plus a prologue), "Dogville" is the story of Grace, a pale young woman who hides behind her dishwater-blonde hair and tries exceedingly hard to please everyone around her, often to her own disadvantage. She stumbles into Dogville (population: approximately 15) after escaping some gangsters and she hopes to find shelter in the backwoodsy hamlet, even though the inhabitants don't seem to have much of anything to spare.
Local philosopher and would-be intellectual Tom Edison (Bettany) takes an immediate interest in the soft-spoken stranger, but most of his fellow Dogvillians (including Patricia Clarkson as a prissy sort, Phillip Baker Hall as a sickly physician, Jeremy Davies as Tom's dopey buddy and Chloe Sevigny as a curly-haired cutie) cast a wary eye in Grace's direction, at least until she volunteers to help out around the place. Suddenly, everyone is quite fond of her -- and why not, when she's willing to work for free? -- and Grace finds herself laboring day and night for mostly thankless bosses. "There's an awful lot to do here in Dogville, considering no one needs help," Grace muses, as she scurries from task to task.
In von Trier's eyes, the residents of Dogville represent not just the stereotypical "ugly Americans," but the very ugliest America has to offer: On the average day, they're merely suspicious, hostile and greedy, but when something really gets them worked up, they're capable of every kind of abhorrent behavior, including the enslavement of the weak and sexual humiliation.
Despite the vaguely 1930s setting, "Dogville" is very clearly designed as a skewering of the jingoistic, anti-foreigner sentiments that swept certain corners of the U.S. in the months following the 9/11 attacks. In the story, the community's happiest times come, not coincidentally, around July 4; not long afterward, circumstances cause most of Grace's new "friends" to turn on her. Even the children Grace has taken care of resort to blackmail to get what they want, as the adults begin barking slogans like, "Are you for us, or against us?"
Kidman, in a performance as emotionally stark as any she's ever given, makes Grace's journey achingly real, even though everything around her is deliberately artificial. Initially, Kidman and von Trier had planned to collaborate on a trilogy of stories following Grace's misadventures, but Kidman has since pulled out of that project. Considering what the director puts her through in "Dogville," it's not hard to guess why she didn't sign up for more.
Yes, the movie is a brilliant study of characters and (dark) human nature, but more importantly it gives viewer a priceless lifetime lesson. It displays a battle between moral purity, youthful idealism and unaware-of intellectual arrogance on one hand and pure-and-simple concept of responsibility on the other. It is in fact this battle that squeezes and twists our stomach throughout the whole movie; it is this opposition which, in all its clarity, finally unveils itself in the final dialogue. Intellectual exchange of argument defines the "winner". And leaves the viewer contemplating, speechless in awe.
A masterpiece that raised the bar of cinematographic creativity on a brand new level.