NYFF ‘03: DOGVILLE When an eruption of gunfire somewhere on the outskirts of a Rocky Mountains town heralds the arrival of a beautiful fugitive, not coincidentally named Grace (Nicole Kidman), the town’s resident wordsmith (Paul Bettany) talks the locals into protecting the poor girl from a bunch of shadowy gangsters in dark-tinted Cadillacs. And so begins Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s spellbinding deconstruction of sacred American values—the first chapter in his as-yet-unfinished “USA” trilogy. At first welcomed by her new neighbors, the seemingly naive Grace (played spectacularly by Kidman, in arguably her greatest performance) soon finds heself a convenient scapegoat for their own moral shortcomings, a receptacle for their deep-seated bitterness and self-loathing, and finally—and spectacularly—an avenging angel of biblical proportions. In an extension of his patented “Dogme” aesthetic—and in staunch defiance of the CGI era—Trier shot Dogville entirely on an empty soundstage, the “set” nothing more than a chalk outline on the floor, the town and its environs conveyed through the power of suggestion and of the viewer’s own imagination. The result is a visionary work of cinema and one of the essential films of the 21st century.