Dancer In The Dark

"Very Good"

Dancer In The Dark Review


For years filmmakers have been trying to reinvent the musical. "Evita" went big, "My Best Friend's Wedding" sneaked musical numbers into its semi-standard romantic comedy, the "South Park" movie mocked the cartoon musical while besting it with genuinely catchy tunes, "Love's Labour's Lost" was an homage to the Fred and Ginger sing-songs of the 1930s.

But no one has succeeded in making a truly modern movie musical, one that employs emerging filmmaking techniques instead of reaching back 50 years for inspiration. In fact, no one has ever even attempted something like "Dancer In the Dark."

Writer and director Lars von Trier -- the reclusive Dane behind the minimalist Dogme95 movement that espouses natural lighting, no props and handheld cameras -- discovers a way to marry his trademark sparseness with the unfettered showmanship of song and dance numbers in this daring retooling of the musical genre.

A tragic fable of innocence and injustice, the film stars elfin Icelandic alt-pop diva Björk as Selma, an immigrant factory worker in the American Northwest, circa 1964, who tries to hide the fact that she is rapidly going blind from friends and employers.

Working extra shifts and taking home products to package for additional pay, Selma squirrels away cash in fistfuls of small denominations, secretly saving for an operation that can save her 12-year-old son from an inherited disease that will eventually rob him of his eyesight as well.

A little naive, Selma is surrounded by protective friends. Kathy (Catherine Deneuve) is a motherly fellow immigrant from the factory floor. Jeff (Peter Stormare) is a timid romantic admirer and blue-collar grunt. Bill and Linda (David Morse and Cara Seymour) are a local policeman and his wife who rent Selma the trailer she lives in with her son.

More than a little absent-minded, at work Selma is easily distracted by the ambient rhythm of the metal presses, which become the beat for some of the sublimely spontaneous production numbers that emerge from her daydreams, fueled by years of attending Saturday musical matinees.

These sequences are an inventive, hypnotic cross between "Stomp"-style choreography, Björk's distinctive musical signature and von Trier's equally distinctive digital video vérité filmmaking. The songs themselves are not particularly catchy, but they are imaginatively staged and (unlike many musicals) occur naturally in the context of the story -- as when Selma walks home along a train trestle and the clickety-clack of the passing train cars start her singing along. (Some of Björk's costars sing too, with considerably less melodious results.)

Awarded best actress at Cannes (where the film also took the top prize, the Palm D'Or), Björk gives a startling, vulnerable, determined performance as Selma. Like Emily Watson in von Trier's masterpiece "Breaking the Waves," she plays this ill-fated heroine with a childlike disposition that invokes a custodial vibe in the audience, which kicks into high gear when her life takes a terrible turn.

During a heart-to-heart with friend and neighbor Bill, he confesses to being bankrupt and deadly afraid that his wife will abandon him when she finds out. Selma tells Bill of her son's illness and the hard-earned savings meant to cure him.

In his desperation, Bill betrays her trust. Taking advantage of her encroaching blindness, he hides in her trailer to discover where she keeps her money, setting off a chain-reaction of events with results so calamitous that Selma is jailed, charged with a brutal murder. This turn of events causes her to retreat further into a fantasy world where all of life is a musical in which another melody could be just around any corner.

Selma subsequently goes on trial, and "Dancer in the Dark" unravels somewhat under von Trier's gross misunderstanding of the American judicial system. The crime investigation is skipped over (but was clearly inept), and the courtroom scenes are badly abbreviated and so far-fetched they border on the absurd. (For starters, her lawyer doesn't have a single line of dialogue.) If von Trier did any research before writing this chapter of the film, he clearly abandon it when accuracy became a burden on his rushed narrative.

But while it's a little hard to brush aside such an obtrusive transgression, "Dancer in the Dark" is otherwise nothing less than a groundbreaking -- and magical -- art house reinvention of a genre that even Disney cartoons have been shying away from in recent years. The musical is not dead, it's just migrated into the arena of experimental film.



Dancer In The Dark

Facts and Figures

Run time: 140 mins

In Theaters: Friday 6th October 2000

Box Office USA: $2.8M

Distributed by: Fine Line Features

Production compaines: Fine Line Features, Zentropa Entertainments, Film i Väst, Blind Spot Pictures Oy, France 3 Cinéma, Danmarks Radio (DR), Arte France Cinéma, Angel films, Canal+, Constantin Film Produktion, TV 1000, Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep (VPRO), Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Yleisradio (YLE), Memfis Film, Sveriges Television (SVT), Film4

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 78 Rotten: 37

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Selma Jezkova, as Kathy, as Bill Houston, as Jeff, as Oldrich Novy, as Linda Houston, as Gene Jezkova, as Norman, as Samuel, as Brenda, as District Attorney, as Dr. Porkorny, as Morty, Reathel Bean as Judge, Mette Berggreen as Receptionist, Lars Michael Dinesen as Defense Attorney, Katrine Falkenberg as Suzan, Michael Flessas as Angry Man, John Randolph Jones as Detective, as Doctor, as Woman on Night Shift

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.