Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare
Runtime: 140 minutes
Rating: 68% Fresh
Views: 1st Viewing
Dancer in the Dark is a film I’ve heard a lot about over my years of being an avid movie-goer. I’ve heard it compared to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, I’ve heard it praised as one of the greatest films of the 21st century, and I’ve heard others disregard it as being art-house trash. Whatever Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is, it’s an incredibly original and fresh film, and a powerful one at that. The film follows Selma Jezkova (played by pop diva Bjork), a young single mother who has recently located to from Central Europe to America in hopes of a new, fresh start. Selma is plagued by a disease that will eventually (within the runtime of the film) permanently rob her of her eyesight. Since the disease is hereditary, her young son will someday have to face the disease too, unless Selma can gain the money for the boy’s operation. Selma takes a job at a local factory, and comes to learn that her new start in America may not be everything she was hoping for. She copes with this realization by disconnecting herself from reality, and with her near-obsession of Hollywood musicals.
Bjork’s Selma Jezkova is both a beacon of hope because of her golden heart, and a devastatingly flawed main character. Her disconnection from any sort of reality is flawlessly pulled off by non-actor Bjork, who gives one of the greatest performances I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on-screen. Selma’s interest in musical films adds so much more to this disconnection because she expects her life to play out like a Singin’ in the Rain or Sound of Music-esque film. When things get difficult or stressful in any way for Selma, she imagines everybody surrounding her to begin bursting out in song and dance. Unfortunately for Selma, her naivety and desperation to save her young son gets her into the worst situation one can possibly get into, and things get very bleak for the young woman. Bjork’s portrayal of Selma Jezkova earned her the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been universally praised by critics worldwide for good reason.
Von Trier’s exceptional direction makes Dancer in the Dark a near-perfect film in a lot of ways. The performances of the supporting cast are nearly as good as Bjork’s. Catherine Deneuve plays Kathy, Selma’s closest friend, David Morse plays Bill, a man who shares financial and marital secrets with Selma, who also confides in it, and Peter Stormare plays Jeff, a love interest of sorts for Selma. The interactions between Selma and these characters are perfect in almost every scene. One thing I didn’t know about before going into the film is that Dancer in the Dark is actually a musical (or anti-musical) of sorts. There are expertly shot song and dance sequences that give the film a sense of magic, and really helped the flow of the film. The main sequence “I’ve Seen It All” was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars that year, with good reason. Hours after completing the film, I had the soundtrack on my iPod, that alone is a testament to how great (even if slightly ironic) the songs in this film are. Had the film not contained these musical numbers, Dancer in the Dark might have been a much slower, much less interesting film.
Dancer in the Dark is truly one of Lars von Trier’s best films yet, and easily one of the best films I’ve seen from the early 2000’s. It’s a bleak, dark, and powerful film with elements of the fantastic, and von Trier’s excellent direction and Bjork’s phenomenal performance makes this a film I believe every fan of dramatic cinema should see. 9.5/10.