Selma (Bjork) is an immigrant factory worker and single mother with failing eyesight living in 1960s Washington. All of Selma's income goes towards the financing of an operation on her son's eyes, but a horrible twist of fate results in her arrest and prosecution for murder.

By
Margaret Pomeranz

1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM

5

Lars von Trier is one of the founding members of the Danish Film Movement Dogma. He impressed the world with Zentropa and Breaking the Waves and confronted us with The Idiots. Always provocative, he's done it again with Dancer in the Dark.

Selma (Bjork) has come to America from Europe. She works at the local factory by day and makes pin cards by night to save enough money for her son (Vladica Kostic) to have an eye operation to avoid genetic blindness. She rents a trailer on the property of the local cop (David Morse) who's getting deeper and deeper into debt because of his spendthrift wife. She gently spurns the advances of smitten Peter Stormare but relishes the friendship of co-worker Catherine Deneuve.

Von Trier uses the conventions of the classic musical and turns them on their head in this film. He uses hand-held video cameras, jump cuts, and ultimately terrifying realism to convince us that what we're seeing is no fantasy and then indulges in the fantasy. His star, Bjork, is plain, frumpily dressed, not winsomely charming. But she's a saint. Her musical daydreams which are beautifully choreographed by Vincent Paterson, unconventionally scored by Bjork herself are poignant and incredibly daring. Imagine Rogers and Hammerstein indulging in a pas de deux with a corpse.

I know von Trier is viewed with suspicion by many people and the announcement of his winning the Palme d`Or for this was greeted with boos, but for me his greatness as a filmmaker lies in his daring, his willingness to risk, to push the boundaries of cinema.

As for Bjork, who won best actress in Cannes and at the European film awards recently, she's extraordinary – she's real, she's a heroine, a saint, a child in many ways but never less than totally convincing and ultimately terribly moving.

David's Comments:
Where to begin? Lars Von Trier continues to celebrate his cult of cinematic ugliness with this visually hideous film with its nausea-inducing hand-held, video-tinged widescreen photography and its all-over-the-place editing. The ridiculous story would be laughed off the screen if it turned up in a Hollywood film. The dance numbers are embarrassing, the songs banal. Most of the actors look awkward and embarrassed (Joel Grey is an exception). Bjork may be a singer (I can't see it myself), but she's certainly no actress.

The fascinating thing about the film is the way it divides people – it's certainly a talking point, but for those, like me, disenchanted by Von Trier's hypocrisies and bombastic self-importance watching Dancer in the Dark was like having someone scratching a blackboard for over two hours – almost unendurable.

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Details

MA15+
2 hours 20 min

Genres