Dancer In The Dark

Dancer In The Dark

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Bjork appears childlike, rehearsing an amateur production of The Sound Of Music, a smiley elfin person in ugly clothes, wearing thick glasses, awkward in her movements. You don't know where you are, although people talk English with American accents, except Catherine Deneuve, who looks even more beautiful without make-up.

This is the movie that won the Palme D'Or at Cannes. The Danish writer/director Lars von Trier (Breaking The Waves) is an advocate of the Dogme style of honest filmmaking - hand held cameras, natural lighting, undressed locations. There is a feeling, also, that much of the dialogue is improvised.

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He makes no attempt to introduce his characters, or explain their relationships. The editing is often crude, the camera intrusively close. The audience has to work. Even a sincere Hollywood picture, such as Dead Man Walking, looks manipulative by comparison.

Selma (Bjork) is a Czech immigrant, who lives with Gene, her difficult 10-year-old son, in a caravan at the back of Bill (David Morse) and Linda's house. Bill is the local cop, passive and compliant by nature, sliding inequitably into debt. Everyone gets along fine, helping out with Gene wherever possible.

Selma works all hours at the factory, making stainless steel sinks, where her friend, Kathy (Deneuve), keeps an eye on her. She is saving the majority of her wages for an operation Gene requires to save his sight.

Selma may appear simple minded, but is essentially single minded. She knows she is going blind from a hereditary disease and yet won't tell anyone, or ease up. She won't even accept the help of Jeff (Peter Stormare), a kind, slow witted admirer.

Her only release from the drudgery of life is imagining spontaneous singing/dancing musical numbers, in which she is the star, as well as knowing that by being in America she can help her son.

The film changes dramatically in the second half, when Selma's goodness is tested to the limit, and Bjork demonstrates an intuitive talent for acting that breaks your heart.

The truth that von Trier seeks in his work is realised in this performance, which affects the whole cast with an unselfish generousity.

Bjork has said that she doesn't want to be an actress. She is right. Where would she find another Selma, or a director with such freedom of imagination?

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Dancer In The Dark packshot
A Czech migrant saves for an eye op for her son while dreaming of Hollywood song and dance numbers.
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Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Cara Seymour, Jean-Marc Barr

Year: 2000

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark/Sweden

Festivals:

EIFF 2000

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