This has to be one of the largest disparities between the my appreciation of the story and my appreciation of the filmmaking I've ever seen. Curiously, though it has been too long ago for me to talk about it in much detail, Manderlay was my first Lars von Trier film, and as the second part of the (unfinished) trilogy that Dogville initiates. It uses the same tactics like heavy narration and a minimalist staging using chalk for building outlines. It also runs over two hours. Yet I at least liked it and its interesting perspective on post-slavery conditions and was engaged in it enough.
It is interesting to talk about Dogville as part of this extreme cinema marathon because, while it has a fairly extreme plot and a strongly misanthropic message, the way it is staged makes it positively tame. The fact that the artifice is front and center in the staging, as well as in a certain theatricality in the acting, never brings you as close, and the sexual and violent content is more implied than is typical of von Trier, even in Manderlay. This feels more like a textbook exercise in teaching us of the miserable or animalistic nature of man than an authentic story.
The far greater problem is with the runtime of just under three hours. Cutting a half hour would make it passable, cutting an hour would be entirely possible to make it good. There is just too much lolling around and inefficient narration. This feels more like listening to an audiobook at times. It isn't really until 90 minutes into the film that it starts to even show its hand at the eventual message.
But like I suggest, this is a very interesting outline for a story. Grace (Nicole Kidman) is on the run from gangsters and happens upon this small Colorado town and is protected by resident Tom Edison Jr. (Paul Bettany). Her precarious situation is faced with mistrust from the residents and so she sets out to prove her honesty and usefulness by assisting them with chores. Over (too much) time, this evolves into an increasingly exploitative relationship. Lars von Trier apparently describes the film as saying that "evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right," which certainly fits the notion of a broader misanthropic interpretation. Ebert critiques him as being anti-American, which I accept tangentially, though with a less negative emphasis. It is a broader ideological point that America happens to embody simply about income inequality or the way people will turn desperation and need into their benefit. It is a selfish nature of humanity that again ties back into misanthropy, but one that I, though perhaps not von Trier, would argue some systems have done a better job resolving.
This is all to the good, but it just needed a better film telling the tale. Clip an hour and do just a little less to highlight the artificiality and come back to talk to me. Either way, I feel like this film as much as any others explains why von Trier might have been keen to depict the end of the world in Melancholia.