Dogville, yes, that’s right, I’m referring to Lars von Trier’s film. I was recently asked which is my favorite film… tough question. Scenes from different films went fast before my eyes, films I love, films which broke my heart and films which mended it, films which challenged my mind, and films which were a visual delight, films I didn’t like at first but learned to love afterwards, films which shocked me and lingered in my memory for a while, but I found myself answering, faster than I predicted, Dogville. That dark and twisty film, perfect for a sleepless and slightly depressive night. Not that the other options would’ve been better in terms of a cheerful or optimistic atmosphere. The title of “my favorite film” was disputed by Dogville, Pans Labyrinth, and Fellini’s Casanova. And that was it, the answer was there, I could’ve changed it if I wanted to, but it wouldn’t have been fair to myself. Honestly, I don’t know if Dogville is my all time favorite film, but it was first to come to my mind when asked this question.
After this almost automatic, or better say intuitive, kind of instinctual answer, given in a glimpse of a second, the question why? hit me pretty hard. I don’t know why. I like it because I like it, but you don’t really like a film like Dogville because you like it. Others are the likable films, Wings of Desire could be one of those films; it’s tender, warm, and full of a candid optimism. It’s beautiful, simply beautiful visually and narrative. But Dogville? No, Dogville it’s not a beautiful film. I was young when I first saw it, maybe 14 of 15. It was the middle of the night, and I was changing TV programs, probably looking for a light film or a TV show to watch before going to bed. And I found Dogville. I watched it till the very end, and like it in a sorrowful and indefinite way. It puzzled me. I can’t pinpoint what made me like this film exactly. Was it its theatrical and arid aesthetic? It could be, I love visual films, and Dogville in its non-naturalistic way is a visual film. But only images would’ve never convinced me to name this film my favorite.
Because of everything. Because it’s unexpected.
With his minimalist city, drawn on the floor like the contour of a lifeless body on the murder scene, Lars von Tries brings the theatre to the screen, but this new theater of his is far from being flamboyant, from using sophisticated make-up or costumes to impress the audience.
Simple, clean, clear, the film replaces everything with white lines, the perfect substitute for walls, doors, windows, the simplest substitute. But behind these white lines, sketched on the asphalt like the outlines of a hopscotch, hide the daily, the ordinary atrocities. Dogville is an evil place, but not because it’s ruled by a merciless villain, or because something outrageous happened there. No, just because one can see trough the walls, and what one sees is the heinous nature of the human being in a society unable to change, not because something stops it in any way, but because there is no will.
It’s a sad film, with unfortunate characters, passive prisoners of their own beings, of the commodity and comfort of their worthless lives, and with a crushing end. Dogville is anything but a likable film, and this is why it’s my favorite film. It’s a kafkaesque story (and I’m saying this just because I was reading The Trial by Kafka when I first saw the film, and I developed a masochistic pleasure for this author’s work), in the aridest surrounding. It’s a film you’re not supposed to like, you’re supposed to remember, and I remember it in such a way that it became my favorite film. Not the film I would happily see anytime, but the film I watch at certain moments when I feel the need to hear the dog barking hopelessly in Dogville.