In this series of articles, I’ll be posting reviews that have recently resurfaced. A number of the reviews I wrote in the past I thought had been lost to time, but after coming to a realization that they might still exist on the Wayback Machine, I was able to relocate many of them. I believe there are still some that are lost and they may be lost in perpetuity, but I will periodically search for that data or re-write those reviews that I have never found or which I never wrote to begin with.
For now, this series will be extensive with over 300 regular (400+ words), short (400- words), and quickie (1 to 2 paragraphs) reviews. I will attempt to combine them as best as I can. Reviews written in early 1998 or earlier, no date of creation exists. I will post the original writing date where known, otherwise the date will be listed as “unknown.” These reviews were written between the date of my site’s founding in 1996 through much of 2002. It was only after this period that I settled on the standard format and length of reviews as well as posting each one to its own individual page, which is why the old data was ultimately lost.
All but the review content has been replaced to match my current formatting guidelines, which are a bit more thorough than they might have been in those early days. Please note that I am attempting to retain as much of the original editing integrity as possible, so spelling and/or grammar errors may still be present. This may also mean that some factual data is not there as IMDb was not as ubiquitous as it is now. So, let’s get on to today’s review.
Dancer in the Dark
Lars Von Trier
Lars Von Trier
Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Joel Grey, Cara Seymour, Vladica Kostic, Jean-Marc Barr, Vincent Paterson, Siobhan Fallon, Zeljko Ivanek, Udo Kier
The greatest sacrifice is a mother’s love for her child. “Dancer in the Dark” tells the story of a Czech immigrant who will do anything for her child, even if it means her own self-destruction.
Icelandic pop star Bjork stars as Selma, a working mother who saves every bit of cash she earns in a dirty old cloth in the pantry. She works all day at a factory and takes on odd jobs to save up enough money for her son’s future. She never buys him gifts and the world thinks her mad for it, but she has a plan.
Selma doesn’t believe in the capitalist system, but has an affinity for American musicals. She spends much of her waking moments fantasizing about musical interludes where she is the star. “Dancer in the Dark” is, for all intents and purposes, a musical; however, it’s not your typical musical. Instead of schmaltzy showtunes, Bjork has written all of the film’s five techno-pop musical numbers that are capped by intriguing dance numbers.
Bjork is outstanding as a mother who sacrifices everything so she can give her child one gift on his thirteenth birthday. Catherine Deneuve gives another terrific performance as Selma’s friend and co-worker. Her simultaneous aggravation and compassion are necessary to create a familial bond between the characters. Siobhan Fallon, who appears all too briefly, manages to capture the feeling of hopeless desperation inherent in the latter half of the film. Fallon proves that it doesn’t matter how many lines or scenes an actress has, it’s how she utilizes them that makes the difference.
The masculine side of the field is a little less showy, but nonetheless important. David Morse is adequate as Selma’s quiet landlord who listens to and abuses the secrets she tells him. On the other side, Peter Stormare is wonderful as the dimwitted Jeff whose adoration for Selma is evident in his persistent offers of transportation.
What writer-director Lars von Trier has accomplished here is nothing less than spectacular. His desire to combine the hopeless necessity of a mother’s love with the uncaring American judicial system has resulted in a film that is both magical and devastating. Had Stanley Kubrick ever made a musical, “Dancer in the Dark” would have been it. The overriding moral statement is conveyed in a peculiar style like no others.
Selma tells us that nothing bad ever happens in American musicals, but with “Dancer in the Dark,” von Trier has managed to effectively blend music and tragedy in a way that leaves the viewer broken-hearted, yet jubilant. His peculiar style is refreshing in today’s sea of cookie-cutter scripts and cardboard emotions that only scratch the surface of human emotion.
It’s not hard to see why some critics will adore “Dancer” and others will despite it. The film is unconventional at best; its musical numbers are sporadically intermixed and while they further the plot, they aren’t the kind of show-stopping performances in traditional musical theater. Additionally, the film begins with a long prelude while the viewer is exposed to various changing abstract images that might take form if concentrated upon.
“Dancer in the Dark” is an exciting and daring experiment in musical filmmaking. It may not be the most popular or traditional film, but it is honest and daring. Given time, like many Kubrick films, its uniqueness will be explored and greater appreciation should develop.
If the Original Musical category is used this year (which I seriously doubt), Dancer in the Dark is a surefire nominee. Other than that, its best hopes are in the Original Song and Actress category for Bjork in all respects. Other nominations could come, but are quite unlikely for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Editing.
December 15, 2000