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 naīve 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.