It is excellent, first of all, in its showing how evil can spread, like a plague, in a community of otherwise passably decent people. In this respect, it is similar to "The Hunt" (Thomas Vinterberg, 2013), another brilliant film that depicts how evil can arise in a close-knit community of kind, caring people. (But while "The Hunt" is, I think, a realistic study of evil, "Dogville" doesn't aim to be completely realistic. It exaggerates and also satirises.)
The film is also excellent in its portrayal of how people hide, suppress, and release their jealousy, sexual desires, ill will, and their moral fetish for punishment of others. The film portrays the forms of these actions accurately and insightfully, I think, even though it exaggerates the magnitude of the desires to unrealistic levels.
The film seems satirical in some places, but serious in other places. With fierce pointedness (helped by the poetic narration), it satirises how people put up an appearance of decency as a facade for hypocrisy and cruelty. Meanwhile, some parts of the film are, I think, intended as serious messages about human nature.
Where it is intended to be serious, the film propagates very conservative messages indeed. It gives justification for draconian laws, tit-for-tat violence, corporal punishment, and strict moral education. Given that the film paints an unrealistically dark picture of human nature, the moral conclusions it draws from that picture should not be taken seriously.
Viewed this on 27/1/16
Simply a MASTERPIECE. Lars Von Trier sees darkness in everything in this world and his film is haunting, unnerving piece of experiment cinema that is merciless. Perhaps my favourite Trier film and Roger Ebert, fuck you and people like you who hate this one. It twists you, often breaks you with the cruelty of the world and the vulnerability of innocence, boy what an ending, simply loved it. It was an ending I wanted to see while watching some of the most horrendous scenes of the film and one that I never expected to happen.
The entire film takes place in a black box on a sound stage where the buildings and locations of the town are outlined in chalk on the floor, like a life size map with minimal props around to sell the idea that this is where these citizens live. It's strange for a fully fledged film, but it doesn't take long to get used to, as the story and characters are enticing enough to fill in the gaps for a suspension of belief. Before long, you won't even notice that walls don't hide anything from anyone and the mine at the edge of town isn't just a series of wooden arches.
With a background that is mostly black, the cinematography is pretty limited to a few interesting lighting effects and pulling focus to the actors at hand. It seems that it would be very fun and freeing for an actor to be able to work with an ensemble cast on a project like this. The ensemble is so filled with great actors that there are too many to name them all, but the chemistry among them is smooth, fitting them together like pieces of a complete puzzle. They all get their moments to shine within the stories that intertwine these households together.
Dogville is somehow a convincing combination of several mediums, film, the stage and prose, that could have gone horribly wrong. All three of these mediums have different ways of telling the same story that need to be taken into account when adapting from one to the other, but here, they all work separately and simultaneously together without becoming a jumbled mess. This is like a filmed production of a stage show playing out the actions read from a novel, with John Hurts as the voice of God narrating the actions, thoughts, backgrounds and feelings of all of the characters, which sounds a bit much but actually ends up being simple and lovely.
Though it does still tread that balance of realism and fantasy, this is very different for a film from Lars Von Trier. It is much less involved and simple, in a way, but that lends itself to how Von Trier may be perceiving America, a place the director hasn't really experienced first hand, and it's people who have long been critically harsh and at odds with him. Even still, Dogville manages to be yet another bitter and thought provoking look at life and the struggles we experience.