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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 12:22 GMT
Nicole Kidman in Dogville
Kidman plays a woman hiding from gangsters in Dogville
A three-hour movie by the Danish director Lars Von Trier is set during the American Depression.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

Michael Portillo. Lars Von Trier dispenses with most of the conventions of cinema. Does the convention of enjoyment survive?

Against my expectations, yes. The director claims that by removing all the scenery he focuses your mind on what the characters are doing with each other, how they inter-relate. I think that's true. I don't remember a film in which the relationships between the characters was as intense. It is a 3 hour movie but it's about corruption. Because they go through a change and a twist, you need a long period to appreciate the corruption is occurring. Apparently according to what I read of the director's intention was that this is an allegory for American power in the world. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Everybody is corrupted in the movie, including the victim of the abuse - Grace, played by Nicole Kidman. In the end she turns out to be the most corrupted of all.

It's very literary, you have the long narration by John Hurt. You have chapter headings. Literary theatrical, but is it also cinematic?

It is brilliantly cinematic, partly because of the John Hurt voiceover. To Kill a Mockingbird - the moral voice over the classic movie. It alerts you for a search of a moral, and a moral you're absolutely denied. I don't think it's that Kidman is corrupted, I think there's the devastating message that comes out of the movie. I want to keep it small scale, not large scale America, and the devastating message is that when you come to accountability, you have only two positions - you can be the victim or the abuser. She ends up defeated in her idealism, being she has to become the abuser.

Some people have seen it as an anti-American film. I had a letter from a Scandinavian journalist, explaining it was a Christian fable and we failed to see it in this country. Did you see either or neither of those?

I think it's very under discussed here how Christian Lars Von Trier's films are. He has a long-standing interest in communities and how communities deal with outsiders and dispossessed people. It's a story about charity. As soon as the community abandon the Christian idea of charity and not expecting recompense they're doomed, corrupted. They asked for a quid pro quo in the film - she had to give something in return for hospitality. That's the beginning of the slippery slope. There's the constant reference to light - this is the light of faith that is gained and lost. He's a Christian and a kind of Marxist as well. A fascinating figure.

Lisa, is he also self-indulgent? I mean he is always imposing restrictions on cinema, involved with dogma and then more and more of these restrictions. That can just be self-indulgence. Do we gain anything from not having...

We gain enormously. For the first 5 minutes you think "God, I've got to sit through 3 hours of this", and then you're just taken into it. The fact that for the last 10 minutes you're watching two people talk and you're completely gripped by it, astonishing.

Is it politically interesting, it's a simple message - the anti-Americanism?

I think that's a boringly simplistic message. I think the Christian message is the more interesting one and it's a very, very tough movie. We're reminded these were very, very poor people. They had all sorts of excuses for bad behaviour. The film is uncompromising on that point - they failed in their duty to this other human being. Every single one of them is appalling in what he or she does and you think they may get away with it, but you're longing for them to be punished.

Review: Dogville
13 Feb 04  |  Film


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