Colder Mountain

still from Lars von Trier's Dogville,

Actually, I was going to title this post “Nicole Kidman: Dogville’s bitch,” but that’s not how I was brought up. Besides, it sounded unnecessarily cruel. [Not in comparison to the movie itself, however, or to some of its reviews. David Edelstein’s Slate piece is bitterly well-done; he can make people who liked the movie hate it.]
Lars von Trier’s been called anti-American, which I don’t buy. [Come on, he stuck a “von” in his name; what’s more American than that?] When Grace (Kidman’s character) begs them for sanctuary, the Dogville-age people show her mercy and take her in. In no time, though, they turn on her, brutalizing her mercilessly, flagellate her and jeer after her as they nail her hands to a cross–ahem. Sorry, wrong grace/justice/sadism/mob violence movie. Actually, they town-rape her and chain her neck to a wagon wheel. At least von Trier didn’t make it a Jewish town.
What evil lurks in the hearts of (American) men (and women), von Trier asks. How could they turn so suddenly and heap black-hearted violence on this beautiful, selfless creature who appeared in their midst? Maybe they’d just seen Cold Mountain.

Set all of von Trier’s schtick aside for a moment (or a paragraph, at least). There are some seriously good performances in Dogville, including Nicole Kidman’s. After watching in vain for any reason to be interested in her Cold Mountain damsel in distress, I found Kidman’s Grace counfounding, frustrating, and excruciatingly watchable. Patricia Clarkson and Stellan Skarsgaard were creepy good, too, although the theater-y affectations of the script (written in Danish, then self-consciously translated) made each performance into a Performance.
So did the blackbox soundstage, the pantomimed doors, all of von Trier’s schtick. According to Paul Bettany, the director didn’t exactly coddle these performances out of the cast. “You shoot one scene a day for 10 hours, and you’ve done it every which way–with the script, making up your own words, with your jacket on, your jacket off, because Lars doesn’t care about continuity. It’s hard to stay self-conscious that long. You get bored being self-conscious. You have to completely yield to him–I wish I’d yielded earlier.”
Related? It sounds like working for Kubrick. An angry man who has issues with large apartments described Kidman’s character, Alice, in Eyes Wide Shut, as “a kept woman” and a whore. Come to think of it, Kidman played a courtesan in Moulin Rouge. Playing exploited, turned out whores for monomaniacal control freaks. Nicole Kidman’s certainly found her niche.