(VOD) DOGVILLE is the first in Lars von Trier’s unfinished ‘USA – Land of Opportunities’ trilogy, comprised of this and MANDERLAY. (The third film, WASHINGTON, never materialized, and probably never will.) DOGVILLE and MANDERLAY are staged like black box theater productions: shot on a sparse, flat set that barely sketches out the town via a handful of open-standing walls and props, painted lines delineating the properties and prominent objects.

Despite having the trappings of black box theater, the camerawork is smartly considered and tightly covers the action while still allowing you to see the ‘private’ activities occurring in the background. Additionally, the wall-to-wall synced sound and editing heightens the tension, especially in the last few chapters.

Both films deal with class issues and human exploitation in a way that I think feels organic to the story, but as commentary about the US it falls a bit flat, although I don’t feel it detracts from the film itself. (It’s worth noting that Lars von Trier wrote DOGVILLE and MANDERLAY having never visited the United States, which is glaringly obvious even without watching the wildly insensitive MANDERLAY.)

Obviously, as this is a Lars von Trier film, it’s an extremely difficult watch and, as is par for the filmmaker, focuses on beating a woman down (literally and figuratively), but it ends in a very different place as most of his films (albeit, while still retaining his standard nihilism).

The cast is loaded with talent: Nicole Kidman is the lead, a woman running from gangsters who takes sanctuary in a small town for safety, and the town sucks her dry. The townsfolk consist of Stellan Skarsgård, Lauren Bacall (who also appears in MANDERLAY), Philip Baker Hall, Jeremey Davies, Chloë Sevigny, Patricia Clarkson, and more. Udo Kier, Ben Gazarra, and James Caan also appear, and everyone turns in amazing performances, especially Kidman.

Even for Lars von Trier, it’s a severely avant-garde film, and one that seems to get lost in the rest of his oeuvre. It’s worth seeking out if you can stomach it.

DOGVILLE’s prologue:

A hilariously terrible official trailer that tries to disguise what the film really is: