Directed by Lars von Trier, starring Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Philip Baker Hall, Ben Gazzara and Chloë Sevigny.
At the best of times, it can be difficult to sit through films that are three hours long. When that film is a misanthropic and misogynistic tale from the pen of, and directed by, Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier it's very nearly impossible. 'Dogville' has been construed (mainly in the US) as an anti-American film but, although its setting is ostensibly in Colorado, it is more an indictment of humanity in general than of a specific nation.
In a magnificent cast, Nicole Kidman shines as Grace, a fugitive on the run from gangsters in 1930s America. She stumbles into Dogville, which is described as "a beautiful little town in the midst of magnificent mountains". Unfortunately, the audience can see none of this as the film was shot entirely in a warehouse, no sets, just chalk outlines on a black floor to mark the houses.
Encouraged by philosophical would-be writer Tom (Bettany whose moral deterioration is almost cruel to witness), the reluctant townspeople give Grace sanctuary. In return, she agrees to work for them. At first it seems that no one needs any help yet, before long, she's toiling from dawn to dusk. Initially kind and generous, the community becomes more demanding as the danger of hiding Grace increases.
Shot in sequence on handheld digital video (which shakes to a nausea-inducing degree), 'Dogville' is effectively three hours of theatre on the big screen. There's no pretence of naturalism and the elaborately staged opening and closing of imaginary doors can get a little wearing, as can the ritual humiliation of the cast, Kidman in particular, at the hands of von Trier.
The staging is innovative, the acting brilliant, but this fable just can't sustain audience interest over 180 minutes. Even the spectacularly cruel ending - if you make it that far, and it is tempting not to - is unable to redeem what has gone before. Artistic, but not entertaining.