Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. Denmark/Sweden/Norway/Finland/United Kingdom/France/Germany/The Netherlands, 2003. Zentropa Entertainments, Isabella Films B.V., Something Else B.V., Memfis Film, Trollhattan Film AB, Pain Unlimited GmbH Filmproduktion, Sigma Films, Zoma Films Ltd., Slot Machine, Liberator Productions, Film i Vast, Arte France Cinema, France 3 Cinema, WDR / Arte, Danmarks Radio, Sveriges Television, Nederlandse Programma Stichting, YLE TV1, Norsk TV2 AS, Edith Film Oy, Spillefilmkompaniet 4 1/2, Fjeldabe Films AS, Invicta Capital, TV 1000, Planet Pictures, Canal+, Det Danske Filminstitut, Eurimages, Svenska Filminstitutet, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, CoBo Fonds, Foundation for Audiovisual Production, Film Fund of the Netherlands, Finnish Film Foundation, European Regional Development Fund, 4 1/2 Film. Screenplay by Lars Von Trier. Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle. Produced by Vibeke Windelov. Production Design by Peter Grant. Costume Design by Manon Rasmussen. Film Editing by Molly Marlene Stensgaard. Cannes Film Festival 2003. Toronto International Film Festival 2003.
Lars Von Trier has made his most audacious film yet with this powerful drama, whose most extreme moments are so over the top as to actually make them humorous. It takes place in a tiny American mountain town in the thirties but uses a theatrical approach to its setting, with all shooting done on a single warehouse floor using chalk outlines to mark separate buildings and sparse furniture. Into the town comes a mysterious stranger (Nicole Kidman), a woman running from gangsters who catches the eye of the local poet and philosopher (Paul Bettany) and asks for help to escape her pursuers. The two of them beseech the town to be charitable and take her in, even seeing if there’s work around the place that she can do in return for their kindness. They agree and gladly help her, but kindness soon gives way to misgivings, which in time become open hostility. Kidman finds that her pursuit of the American dream has turned into the American nightmare, and Von Trier pulls no punches in using this microcosm to describe an all-too-easily corruptible society. The story of a frail woman who cannot survive the society around her is not exactly fresh material for the director of such gut-wrenching tragedies as Breaking The Waves and Dancer In The Dark, but exceptional performances and intelligent dialogue make for a rare and completely new experience. The spare visual style allows one to concentrate on the subtle nuances of the drama (imagine an apocalyptic version of Vanya On 42nd Street), which engage the viewer in meditations on politics, society and human weaknesses. Kidman gives an astonishing performance in a career marked by exceptional roles, remarkably displaying an emotional range that grows more and more fascinating throughout the film’s mammoth three-hour running time. The casual viewer will be utterly turned off by the experience, but the more daring among you will find it is a film to be admired whether you love it or hate it. Oh yes, and then there’s the ending.