New in Film

Courtesy LIONS Gate

Dogville

Directed by Lars von Trier

Lions Gate Entertainment

Much has been made of the supposedly anti-American attitude behind Dogville, Danish director Lars von Trier’s (Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves) latest portrait of a woman wronged by society.

Ever since its unveiling at the Cannes Film Festival (where it lost out to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant for the Palme d’Or) and exhibition in Europe, domestic critics have attacked the film on three counts. They decry its depiction of an imaginary Depression-era small town for its brutality, its director for presuming to understand our country without ever having set foot in it, and its callous end-credits, which set Walker Evans’ famous photographs of impoverished southerners to the strains of David Bowie’s “Young Americans”. One called the film’s message “Taliban thinking” to von Trier’s face, while another wrote that “for any American, seeing such nakedly hateful sentiments expressed by a filmmaker such as von Trier should be as terrifying as a replay of those jets plowing into the World Trade Center.”

Even as the action unfolds in a Rocky Mountains village of von Trier’s invention, the film’s statement about the nature of humanity is clearly far more general than a shrill denunciation of the American dream or George W. Bush’s administration. Like many a great dramatic work—think Richard III or Oedipus Rex—the setting is merely a backdrop for the message. A misanthropic deconstruction of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town, Dogville draws very much on theatrical (and literary) conventions in order to depart from more traditional cinematic renderings and privilege the message over the medium.

Dogville springs not only from von Trier’s imagination, but from our own—like in Wilder’s town, there are no sets. The action was filmed on a Swedish soundstage, the floor marked with white outlines where houses, bushes, and even a dog should be, abstractions the characters accept as concrete structures but which the audience must build in their own minds.

What convinces us to buy into this charade? That the ensemble cast performs every bit as well as its marquee actors. Nicole Kidman shows us why she should only act in art films; Chloë Sevigny, Lauren Bacall, Patricia Clarkson, and Ben Gazzara all live up to their names; and Paul Bettany, an upstart compared to his castmates, shockingly manages to upstage the veterans with a performance that should make his career.

With a running time of about three hours, one might expect difficulty briefly summarizing the film’s plot. Grace (Nicole Kidman) arrives in Dogville on the run from some unnamed danger. The villagers take her in and then turn on her. The ending shocks and leaves the audience full of questions, which von Trier presumably will answer in the rest of the trilogy, albeit without Kidman as the lead.

—Alexandra B. Moss

The Prince and Me

Directed by Martha Coolidge

Paramount Pictures

Lil’ Kim once advised, “What do you do when your man is untrue? You cut the sucker off and find someone new.” If only Julia Stiles’ Paige had honored Kim’s fine words, in the new film The Prince and Me, she wouldn’t have to undergo the central trial of deciding whether to become the Queen of Denmark or pursue her ambition of becoming a Doctor in Third World Countries.

How did she get into this oh-so-terrible position, you ask? Well, Edward, the Crown Prince of Denmark (played by undeniably handsome unknown Luke Mably) has a Prince William-esque reputation for carousing and—evil-of-evils—drag racing. These habits—in this supposedly modern fairy tale—are all too often splashed across the front page of Denmark’s tabloids, earning him continual, serene, slaps on the wrist by his regal parents.

The royals are eternally frustrated at Edwards’ penchant for public PG-rated shenanigans instead of focusing on learning his kingly duties. Not to worry, as the King and Queen are portrayed by esteemed Brits James Fox and Miranda Richardson in a fashion that revisits the Golden Age of Victorian unemotional hypocrisy, thereby making sure the stakes are never raised too high.

Edward’s reacts to this subdued pressure by deciding to enroll at the University of Wisconsin. How did he decide upon this institution? While complaining about the devastating pressure he is under to care about his future as a Prince, he catches an ad for Girls Gone Wild on TV, which features girls from the University of Wisconsin. Soon he is underway to Wisconsin to become someone new, along with a little help from Soren, the butler assigned by Her Majesty to help out Eddie, as he now insists on being called. Soren, played by British comedian Ben Miller steals every scene he’s in, as the valet learning to adjust to college life. He creates a real character within this fairy stage, who isn’t quite sure what to do now that his duties aren’t as rigid as they once were. It is a generous performance that gives Mably a chance to seem like he has personality and charm, simply because he shares a room with Soren. The purpose of the character goes beyond his help to the other actors, however. Soren’s relatable comprehension of the ridiculousness of the whole fairy tale situation allows the audience to recognize it and move beyond it. Too often romantic comedies are bogged down by their farcical nature, but in Prince and Me, I was able to move beyond the realization of its stupidity to enjoy its simple sweetness.

One of the more interesting aspects of the story for movie buffs is Stiles’ character’s hatred of Shakespeare. She is an inveterate math and science geek who is unable to pass the school’s Shakespeare requirement, and turns to well-schooled Eddie for help. For movie dorks like myself, this is ironic because Stiles got her start acting in Shakespearean adaptations like 10 Things I Hate About You (aka The Taming of the Shrew), Michael Almereyda’s adaptation of Hamlet and Tim Blake Nelson’s O, a high school version of Othello. Such slight touches of wit made this fairy tale viable, but ultimately forgettable date material.