Dancer In The Dark


Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Written by:Lars Von Trier
Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Udo Kier
Released: December 26, 2000
Grade: A-

The most prestigious honour that can be bestowed from any film festival worldwide would have to be the Palm D’Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival.  It is the grand prize and has been won recently by films including Secrets And Lies, Pulp Fiction and The Piano.  It seems every year the award is shrouded in controversy as it is selected by a 15 member jury whose opinions tend to differ from the general public.

Lars Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark was this year’s Palm D’or winner and as always, critics were at loggerheads.  Some claimed the film the film was deserving but others claimed it was redemption for Von Trier not winning in 1997 for Breaking The Waves, a personal favourite of mine.

Dancer In The Dark is the story of Selma, a Czech mother with a 12-year-old son who migrated to the United States.  Both suffer from a birth defect in that they are slightly retarded and have failing eyesight.  As we discover, Selma has less than a year before she is totally blind.  In that time, she is working flat out at a factory to save money for an operation that can prevent her son from succumbing to blindness also.

Selma lives in a caravan rented from local police-office Bill (Morse) and his wife.  Bill inherited a large sum of money but through his wife’s lavish spending, the money is all gone and the bank is to repossess their house.  When Bill finds that Selma has over $2,000 stashed in her home, he steals the money and claims it is his own.  Who’s going to believe a retarded Czech mother over a local police officer?

Unbelievably painful to watch is the most apt way of describing Dancer In The Dark.  To take advantage of the disadvantaged is a callous act and it’s impossible not to be affected emotionally.

Singer turned actor Bjork, is strikingly brilliant as Selma as are the supporting cast members.  Von Trier uses many moving camera shots and close-ups and with the help of the cast, creates a “documentary-like” production adding to the realism.  I should have read the posters for the film before seeing the film as it contained a warning - “Dancer In The Dark commences with a four minute musical overture, accompanied only by a blank screen”.  Sure enough, many were left confused and one patron even complained to the staff indicating that there was a problem with the print.

The film would easily have been up with the best of the year had Von Trier not insisted on weaving unusual musical numbers into it.  I’m not sure what they are intended to indicate but distract from the main show - sort of like ad breaks.  Bjork may be a great actress but her singing technique is not my style and given she sings eight songs during the film, it becomes very annoying.

Certainly not for everyone, Dancer In The Dark again illustrates the talents of Lars Von Trier whilst also showing that he is human.  Clearly the big winner is Bjork with her performance and one wonders whether she’ll stick with singing or acting.  I’m hoping for acting.