By Stephen M. Silverman
May 20, 2003 01:00 PM

Nicole Kidman may have a critical hit on her hands with maverick Danish director Lars von Trier’s grim drama “Dogville,” though the artistic success came at a cost, she revealed at the Cannes Film Festival, where the movie premiered.

At a press conference covered by Reuters, Kidman, 35, said she and the director held a three-hour screaming match before they could proceed with the grueling story, which was shot on an abstract stage set that contained no actual structures.

“When I arrived in Sweden, the first week was tricky. He had preconceptions about me and I did about him,” Kidman said of Von Trier, who reputedly argued so violently with Bjork while they were making “Dancer in the Dark” that the Icelandic singer got out of acting for good.

“Then we went off into the forest and had a heart-to-heart. It was a three-hour, warts-and-all, screaming walk. But we came out with a very strong commitment to each other.”

The film’s story concerns a fragile woman’s attempt to be accepted in a last-chance Rocky Mountain town called Dogville. The word from Cannes is that the heavy-going three-hour movie — despite its lack of commercial potential — is a leading contender for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or (which, last year, went to Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist”).

In a lighter vein, Kidman also revealed to reporters that she would happily give up life and a career in the fast lane if the right man came along. She made no reference to any wrong men.

“I probably won’t do this for the rest of my life,” Kidman said. “There are other things to do that interest me and I think that when I fall in love, that’s when I will stop and settle down.”