Wow, that was certainly an experience. I haven’t seen many of Lars von Trier’s other movies, only Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves, but I’ve seen enough to feel like I know what to expect (and I learned about him and the Dogme 95 movement in film school). Even so, this movie blew my expectations out of the water.
Dogville makes it clear from its opening scene that it doesn’t care about a mainstream audience. My wife didn’t watch more than 5 minutes before quitting. This was most likely because it lacks a traditional set, using what I would call instead a symbolic set. That places it into a more avant-garde or experimental camp. The entire story takes place in the town of Dogville, and its entire contents are laid out on a soundstage. Chalk lines on the ground demarcate the different buildings, and the only set pieces laid out on top of it are the pieces that bear some function in the story. I’ve never seen anything else like it.
This choice, combined with the voiceover narration, and its division into chapters makes the movie feel very much like a storybook. It also has symbolic meaning, as well. There are no walls, because each person knows every other one’s business. You can’t see anything outside the town, because the story focuses on the town itself. You never see the doors (though you hear them) because they don’t matter. You do see their clothes, and certain set pieces, because they add character (and realistically, they have to wear something).
The story has it’s charms, and kept me engaged throughout, although because it’s a Lars von Trier movie, I had certain inklings about where it was going. His films excel at creating uneasiness. The ending, for me, ties it all together. I would never spoil it, but let me say it’s a very unique happy ending.