Dancer in the Dark Reviews
~August 16, 2016~
Saw this on 7/4/16
Bjork gives an extremely moving performance, but one might wish that it would have been far far better had this not been a musical. The film fails to connect a lot because of these unwanted musical numbers even if the lead character justifies them. However, the film becomes compellingly engaging and heart wrenching towards the end, thanks much to Von Trier's craft and Bjork's performance.
Most of the movie looks more like a documentary, very much like real life. It's so unpolished that it seems like improv, like everything is being made up on the fly or that the camera is just capturing these real, personal events. Of course as the story continues you know that everything is indeed planned and once you get to the first musical number, which doesn't happen until nearly 40 minutes in, everything is actually specifically choreographed. While these real life moments were filmed with what seems to be a single handheld camera, the musical moments become dreamlike and are shot with over 100 digital cameras placed around the location to catch every move from every angle. This footage was then edited to give a sense of stability within Selma's mind, standing out from her otherwise rocky life. It's quite ingenious.
The cast is filled with actors' actors that each bring truth to their characters no matter how big or small the role is. Veteran actress Catherine Denueve is abrasive but supportive as Selma's friend and coworker, Peter Stormare is sympathetic as a man after Selma's affection and David Morse really pushes the film to new points as Selma's neighbor and landlord. Cara Seymour, Siobhan Fallon, Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgård, Vladica Kostic and Joel Grey are all also in smaller roles, though still as equally important to the film. Icelandic singer Björk, who has a limited experience with acting, stars as Selma herself and brings veracity, sincerity and an incredibly raw experience to the character.
Selma struggles between being a woman of her word, holding her ground and simultaneously feeling helpless. She's dealing with her own personal burdens, being a single mother trying to give her son a future he can see, and the burdens given to her by others, being a friend in a position where she doesn't have much of a choice to make. Many might question why Selma doesn't take the easy road through her situation, but that's just the point. She is so innocent and her moral convictions are so strong that she never even feels the need to. It might seem like an unrealistic decision to make, but it's only as unrealistic as any other movie musical, just in the opposite direction.
Dancer in the Dark completes Von Trier's Golden Hearts Trilogy of films in which the heroine remains naïve despite her experiences. It should also be noted that the Danish director's view of vintage America is a view from afar as the director has very rarely if ever even been to America and the film was shot in Denmark. The portrayal here of small town American living and the American justice system are skewed and exaggerated, a bit simple but still unsurprising. It's a heartbreaking and unsettling film that you will assuredly not clap for at the end, as you might a usual musical, despite whether you appreciate it or not.
Great performance, hope she would repeat it again.
I can most definitely assure you that the twisted mind of Mr. Lars von Trier has no boundaries when it comes to cinematic genius. Written and Directed by von Trier himself, the film creates a genre of its own playing with both musical and drama along the way. I remember once reading an article somewhere on von Trier and how he expressed his desire to experiment with all the cinematic genres that ever existed... and, oh boy, he is doing it, and he is doing it in his own way. Breaking the Waves (1996) is an unconventional romance that taps on theology. Antichrist (2009) is horror manifested in psychological gore. Melancholia (2011) is a very narcissistic end-of-the-world sci-fi. Nymphomaniac (2013) is porn! There is no wonder then when he tries his hand at musicals.
What I am getting at is that watching a von Trier film is similar to eating pickles dipped in ice cream, the only difference is that von Trier's dish actually tastes sublime. He knows how to convince you that pickles are not that salty and ice cream is not that sweet. You realize the discrepancy and the cruel irony only after you have eaten and enjoyed the meal. Proof? Try watching Dancer in The Dark a second time and compare it to any mainstream musical. What you will find is the most basic musical instruments, the dancing that does not even sync with the music, the abrupt shifts, the crude editing, the self-referential camera angles, and exaggerated sentimentality. Funny thing is that despite everything, you still enjoy the story and empathize with the characters wholeheartedly. The canny Dane not only experiments with the genre, he actually destroys it.. mocks it, and in the process, he mocks us as well.
Although the film cannot be called a Dogme film, it certainly owes a lot of its stylistic choices to the Dogme rules, which does not strike me as a surprise since the late 1990s was high time for Dogme productions. Personally speaking, there are a lot of things I admire about Dogme films, one of them is the almost always brilliant casting. The cast of Dancer in the Dark seems to be from everywhere around the globe... Icelandic, Danish, French, American, English, German... etc. However, they fit in together harmoniously and not a single actor seems out of place. Despite the hostile tension between her and von Trier during filming, Bjork's performance turns to be a real knockout. I don't know whether she was perfect for the role or vice versa, all I can imagine is von Trier thinking of Bjork and then tailor-writing the role for her. No one, I really mean NO ONE, could have played the helpless blind Selma Jezkova as Bjork did.
You might have noticed that I did not give a synopsis of the story. With von Trier's I would rather not to. Just be prepared to watch a musical like no other.. a musical where crimes are committed, innocence is murdered and dreams are crushed.
Enjoy it. Break your heart. Then laugh at yourself.