“Einstein Idiot Reviews” is a series designed to give you, the mainstream fan, the information you need to help you decide for yourself whether or not you will enjoy the movie. This is a consideration “the critics” typically overlook. Films reviewed here are usually somewhat older ones  you and I may originally have missed, now available at bargain rental rates. For Einsteins and Idiots–and aren’t we all a little of both?

“Dogville” could be clumsily renamed after three other productions: “Our Town” is “Twin Peaks” and We Hosted “The Godfather.” But be warned. This 2003 release is not really a movie. It’s more of a filmed play, and nothing on the DVD jacket gives you the slightest hint. It is nearly three hours long. The first hour is gratuitously dull. The second hour is gratuitously vulgar. And the third is gratuitously disturbing.

The blurb on the box made it all sound interesting. A beautiful woman (Kidman), for mysterious reasons, suddenly stumbles into a dead porta-pot of a town, appropriately named “Dogville.” (My son has a three-legged pit bull named Crazy, whose canine dignity would be offended by this title.) The woman is apparently trying to escape distant gunfire. Her high society looks, fur-collared coat, and exotic accent are quite a contrast to the mumbling, shuffling, dreary band of about twenty citizens who comprise the population of what they euphemistically call a “town.” She is afraid, says she is being hunted but won’t say why, and asks the town for secret sanctuary.

In spite of the unknown but real risks for doing this, Dogville agrees to hide her. In return, they want her to work for each of them, let them get to know her, and then they will take another vote to decide whether she can stay longer. The stakes begin to rise when a smooth talking, powerful man is chauffeured in and says his daughter is missing and he’d pay them handsomely if they could help him find her. With the visits of increasingly more powerful persons, the risks and the tension keep rising. The ending, which will make you reevaluate everything you thought you knew about the characters, is a stunner. No, it’s really more like the gradual peeling of a piece of duct tape off a scab–slow and agonizing.

When I say this is a filmed play, I mean the entire town is on the stage all the time, the buildings are identified with black chalk descriptions, there is a bare miminum of props and no scenery, and there are absolutely no special effects except for the sounds of invisible doors being opened and closed.

Dreary, like Dogville. And dull, especially if you were prepared to sit down to a real movie.

Most movies adapted from plays have fantastic dialogue and no need for the crutches of special effects. This one needs some crutches. (So will you, if you watch it all at one sitting.) Interesting dialogue wouldn’t have hurt it, either. One good thing–it does have a plot. And the acting is superb. I would think it takes considerable talent to be boring on purpose.

Christopher T. Bryan’s review gives this movie more credit than I think it deserves, writing of  grand social themes that have been much more clearly explored in numerous other films. He, too, noted the similarities with Oscar Wilde’s “Our Town,” but he maintains that the minimalist scenery allows the viewer to focus more on the characters. I personally found this distracting rather than focusing. When Kidman climbs onto an egg crate cardboard “mountain” I lost a few lines of dialogue while thinking, “What is that? Egg crates?” I suspect most other viewers will too. But by all means, check out Bryan’s review and get a second opinion. 

This film won all kinds of prestigious awards including Cannes and Toronto Film Festival. It is an intelligent movie, and I usually love intelligent movies. But this one bogs down in its own gray matter. It’s the kind of show that professional critics feel obligated, unconsciously perhaps, to praise so their peers won’t think they are unsophisticated. Seeing an innocent child murdered by an expressionless killer is not my idea of either entertainment or brilliant film making. Nor did it expand my cultural horizons to watch some despicable critin’s bare glutes heaving during a particularly ugly rape scene. But to the director’s credit, the assault was not exploited for perverted titillation. It just makes you want to crawl naked through a carwash.

Regarding the producer, Lars von Trier is an undeniable genius. His series “The Kingdom” is a much more focused, fascinating, compelling, quirky, darkly humorous, mysterious, and yes, entertaining piece of work. If you are a fan of his, check out anything else he’s done except “Dogville.” 

You Einsteins out there are going to say that I don’t get it. I think you’re right. But that’s not the point. Most other viewers won’t get it either. The DVD box makes this look like a nice, suspenseful MOVIE with some famous actors in it, maybe 10 I.Q. points higher than “Speed.” That would be a setup for disappointment. But if you ignored this at the store because of that misconception, take another look.  

I can see this as a show that would be enjoyed by college students in highly urban rock music and arts havens like Austin, Seattle, and Chicago. If you can spell “cinema connoisseur” and consider yourself to be one, this could be a keeper. If you are a pseudo-intellectual, you will love this, because it’s easy to follow and you can brag to everyone that you saw it. If you are bored by most foreign movies, are a practical person with a daily to-do list, want to be entertained, or you like fast-paced, glitzy dramas or comedies, forget it. If you are the kind of person who thinks Barney Fife’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou, would be your dream date, you will regard this production as a dreadful waste of time and an attack on your sensibilities. 

Do you like heartwarming and profound classics like “Our Town”? Then forget this, and check out “Bambi.” Were you a “Twin Peaks” fan? You just might love this. “The Godfather”? Then this is way, way, too dull. If you like weird, unpredictable stuff slowly fed to you one small teaspoon at a time; and if you have a cast iron butt–you could wind up sitting through “Dogville” twice. It seemed like that kind of show. The kind that, if you are patient and brilliant, you might want to start again from the beginning, just to see precisely how it led to the ending. But three hours was two too many for me. I’d much rather spend six hours with Crazy in the doghouse.

(2003, directed by Lars von Trier.  Also starring Laruen Bacall, James Caan, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard, Patricia Clarkson, Jeremy Davies, Philip Baker Hall, Ben Gazzara, Harriet Anderson Anderson, Blair Brown, Chloe Sevigny, and Miles Purinton.) 

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