A community of actors are staging a theatre version of Lars Von Trier’s film Dogville. But they want to question the film’s treatment of the powerless outsider and try to find a more tolerant way of unfolding the events of the film.

The nature of this production undercuts the power of its themes

The director-figure, Tom, has secretly found a candidate to play the part of the outsider. Graça is a Brazilian woman who has fled the semi-fascist regime of her country (the program notes make clear this was under the regime of Bolsonaro).

Graça is plucked from the audience and brought on stage. Will the actors abuse this refugee in the same way as the character Grace is abused in Dogville?

The play intends to grapple with many ambitious themes. Graça is a refugee, and the refugee context is touched on in the play. In the programme notes, the director, Christiane Jatahy, references the return of fascism to Brazil, and the world’s quiet acceptance of the growth of the extreme right. She writes of facism played out in the most intimate relationships.

Unfortunately, the nature of this production undercuts the power of its themes. It’s made clear that we are watching actors playing the part of actors. So their reaction to Graça is scripted and not their ‘real’ reaction to an outsider. Moreover, the parable of Dogville is about holding personal and intimate power over a person, it relates to the Stanford prison experiment rather than the refugee situation. Clearly some refugees are horribly, personally abused, but the refugee issue is more about government policies and their popular acceptance, which relates to invisibility of refugees and the lack of personal interaction rather than abuse at a personal level.

As to Tom’s experiment in finding tolerance for the outsider, I really can’t tell you what the result was. The actors are simultaneously filmed and displayed on screen. But we soon learn that the action on stage is not necessarily the action that appears on the screen. So in the most dark and upsetting moments from the film, the action on stage does not follow the worst aspects of Dogville, while on screen we see the actors copy the film fully. So does the community pull back from the brink, or do they follow their worst impulses? As an audience member it felt like we were viewing alternative possibilities. Christiane Jatahy writes that she uses the pre-recorded film to reference history. So have the events on the screen happened in the community previously? In which case has the action already occurred and the experiment is pointless?

The closing scene of the play is the most emotional, where Graça reads aloud in 'her own language' her personal statement on fascism. This should have the power of authenticity, but by this time I was too distracted by wondering if this French speaking actress, pretending to be plucked from the audience, reading words that she had pretended to write during the play, was actually a refugee or just an actor reading a script.

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The Blurb

Brazilian film and theatre director Christiane Jatahy brings her theatrical work to the UK for the first time in this arresting performance of Dusk, based on Lars von Trier’s film Dogville.

Attempting to escape the oppressive, quasi-fascist regime of her country, a young Brazilian woman, Graça, flees her homeland. She finds refuge in a community of theatre artists staging Dogville and tackling the question: to what extent is our society tolerant of the Other? At first, Graça is enthusiastically welcomed by the group. However, she later falls victim to exploitation and experiences racist and xenophobic attitudes — recurring themes in Jatahy’s work.

Jatahy was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre at the 2022 Venice Biennale and praised for merging the horizons of cinema and theatre. In Dusk, making its UK premiere at the Festival, film and theatre blend to offer many different perspectives over one absolute and final truth.

Based on the film Dogville by Lars von Trier

Comédie de Genève

Christiane Jatahy Staging, Direction and Adaptation
Thomas Walgrave
Artistic Collaboration, Set and Lighting Designer
Paulo Camacho Director of Photography
Vitor Araújo Music
Anna Van Brée Costume Designer
Jean Keraudren Sound Designer
Julio Parente and Charlélie Chauvel
Video Designers

Cast Véronique Alain, Julia Bernat, Paulo Camacho, Azelyne Cartigny, Philippe Duclos, Vincent Fontannaz, Delphine Hecquet, Viviane Pavillon, Matthieu Sampeur, Valerio Scamuffa

Director's Note

When I first saw Lars von Trier’s film Dogville, it provoked in me a mixture of fascination and repulsion. I loved its bold form and the way it dismantles the mechanisms of capitalist exploitation. But I felt a real sense of rejection faced with its depiction of humanity’s failures and violence against women.

However, with what has happened in my country, Brazil, since the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, I thought back to Dogville. The choice to adapt Dogville for the theatre was directly linked to my bewilderment at seeing a form of fascism return in Brazil after 30 years of democracy. What surprised me most was seeing how in my country, as elsewhere, the acceptance of the extreme political right happened quietly. All over the world, this shift can be observed in people who can no longer distinguish between rights and privileges. It's this slip that interests me, and the way in which fascism is played out through the most intimate relationships.

Lars von Trier turned to theatre to make his film; I turned to cinema to create this play. I wanted to explore the friction between theatre and cinema and the effects of this tension on meaning and truth. The production of Dusk contains a mixture of live and pre-recorded footage. It’s like it’s all unfolding in the same space, so the audience doesn’t know if they’re watching the past or the present. I wanted to create a feeling of instability, the feeling of being in a sort of nightmare of repetition.

For me, the question of the past is at the heart of the relationship between theatre and cinema. In Brazil, the past pulls us back. It’s like it exists in a twilight space – dusk – we live with the past like a scar. But you have to put this scar on full view to change people’s minds. To avoid the risk of repeating the same story infinitely.

– Christiane Jatahy

Co-produced by Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, Paris; Piccolo Teatro di Milano-Teatro d’Europa; Théâtre National de Bretagne, Rennes and Maillon Théâtre de Strasbourg.

Lars Von Trier is represented in Europe by Marie Cécile Renauld, MCR Agence Littéraire as agreed with Nordiska ApS.

Christiane Jatahy is an Associate Artist at Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe; Centquatre-Paris; Schauspielhaus Zürich; Arts Emerson, Boston and Piccolo Teatro di Milano.

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