Dogville Hunting

in 14th Stockholm International Film Festival

by Joen Gustafsson

Sami Saif’s fifty-two minutes documentary “Dogs & Deer – Dogville Confessions” is not only produced by more or less the same people as it’s subject: Lars von Trier’s feature film “Dogville”. Saif was also the only director beside von Trier allowed on the “Dogville”-set. The question that arises therefore is whether the film should be regarded as a documentary or, rather, some kind of promotional film.

I would say it works both ways. Of course the film promotes director Lars von Trier’s “Dogville”; I would, for example, not be the least surprised to find it included as some kind of supplemental on the “Dogville”–DVD. At the same time though, it really is – or at least functions – as a genuine documentary.

Saif’s film follows the narrative line of “Dogville”. From the beginning to the bitter end. Its visual style is Dogma-influenced, DV-filmed in a jumpy, almost associative manner. The irrefutably incredible cast of “Dogville” is depicted while acting; while discussing their characters with von Trier; while being pushed around in a way that sometimes borders on pure torment.

An important part of Saif’s film consists of the monologues performed by the actors in the so called “confession-booth”, a small cabin where anyone on the set was encouraged to talk in private directly into a video camera. This is the place where Nicole Kidman sits down to ponder the possible insanity of her director and his project and at the same time admits that she misses her children. This is also the place where Paul Bettany sits down to release his anger after being abruptly scolded by the director. The confession-booth’s similarity to a public toilet is obvious and maybe just a little more than slightly amusing.

The overall impression of Saif’s film is that it is a documentation of something taking place. A creative process of course, but it really is more of a pure documentation than an interpretation. Some efforts are made, though: first and foremost the deer (of the title) which appears, disappears and reappears outside the big, industrial-looking building in which “Dogville” is being filmed. This deer, I suppose, symbolises more than anything else “Grace”, Nicole Kidman’s character, the innocent and fragile animal which is being hunted by its cruel and fraudulent fellows, the human beings (the “dogs”) – the citizens of Dogville. Moreover it could be the actual and momentary inspiration of the project, the rare substance of which art (and fiction in general) is being made. The problem is that in order to understand what this poor deer is doing outside of the studio, one also has to have seen the entire film “Dogville”. This fact drives home the fact that Sami Saif’s documentary is, if anything, a promotional product.

On the other hand, once again, “Dogs & Deer – Dogville confessions” is an amusing film. It obviously gives a unique insight into the working process of the film “Dogville” and, moreover, contains a series of small but memorable moments. My favourite moment occurs when Swedish actress Harriet Andersson holds von Trier’s hands and likely paraphrases Naima Wifstrand’s monologue in Bergmans 1968 feature “Hour of the Wolf” by saying (in Swedish) something like “Hold my hands. Sense their warmth”. (Naima Wifstrand claimed the opposite: her hands were cold when she asked Max von Sydow to hold them in the film of Ingmar Bergman.)

Thus, the “Dogs & Deer – Dogville confessions” may or may not be an orthodox documentary. It still has it’s moments though, and lacking alternatives, this is probably as good as any documentation on the making of the Lars von Trier film.