Notwithstanding the distractions of whether Nicole Kidman is a legend, and why Lauren Bacall decided to tell a press conference that Nicole should not be described as a legend, Lars Von Triers's "Dogville" is a worthwhile movie.
It is clearly an art-house movie although it probably isn't a true "Dogma 95" movie. (Von Trier, among other Danish and Nordic directors, supported Dogma 95, not to be confused in any way with Kevin Smith's "Dogma" or with any religious dogma. Perhaps it was a youthful affectation. Perhaps it represents the movies he wants to make. "Dogville" is an art-house, intellectual piece, but it doesn't seem to meet the standards of Dogma 95). As such, it isn't a great entertainment and it clearly won't appeal to many viewers.
It is shot on a theatrical style set - a bare floor plan, without sets, and with modest props and lighting. It is a concept movie, and I plan to talk about the principles and ideas that are debated in a separate post - but if I did that here I might spoil the story.
It features an accomplished cast including Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazarra, Paul Bettany, Blair Brown, James Caan, and Patricia Clarkson. I think the actors worked hard to support the film by doing their part. There is no scene-stealing, and watching the collaborative professionalism of the cast, in itself, makes for an interesting evening.
The story is that Bettany plays Thomas Edison Jr, an idealist, and an idler, living in Dogville, a remote mining town in Colorado, around the time of World War I. One night he hears gunfire, and Nicole Kidman, playing Grace Mulligan, a young woman apparently hiding from gangsters, arrives. Edison convinces the townspeople to shelter the fugitive, who will prove her worth to the town by working. At first no one wants her to work for them but over time they become accustomed to her and dependent on her, and then they exploit and abuse her.
The movie is a fascinating exploration of idealism and exploitation. I won't spoil the story in this post, except to say that the critics who wrote about this movie at its premiere at the 2003 Cannes Festival were largely off-base. It is not a polemical movie about America or capitalism. It is a good exposition of the failures of religious and philosophical systems that teach self-effacing and idealistic ideas about how to co-exist and live in the world.