Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Written & Directed by Lars Von Trier
Starring Björk, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Stormare, David Morse, Joel Grey

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

Selma (Björk) is an emigrant to the United States who has wound up in the Pacific Northwest working in a factory. She is a single mother with a son, Gene (Vladica Kostic). Her best friend is a co-worker, Kathy (Deneuve), and Selma also has a local man, Jeff (Stormare) who seeks her affections. And she has neighbors who are her landlords but also her friends. But there's something else about Selma, and it's not the fact that she wants to live her life in a musical. It's the fact she has a rare condition that is causing her to go blind, and worse, is a condition she shares with her son, who will eventually suffer the same fate. Selma does everything in her power to raise the money to save Gene's sight...but how far is she prepared to go exactly when fate steps in and throws obstacles in her path?

The genre of the movie musical is in a sad state. The two most recent examples of quality musical work on the big screen are Everyone Says I Love You and South Park. When the last big movie musical of any quality is Evita from 1996, then you know this is a genre with problems. This is a genre that did not need Von Trier's "help". Granted, the musical part of this movie musical is very interesting. Björk, along with Von Trier and Sjón Sigurdsson wrote the words and music for the film--and the songs themselves, for the most part, work. I've been a big fan of Björk's music for some time and her performance, acting and singing both, is phenomenal. The way that Von Trier uses mounted camera shots for the musical portions of the film as opposed to his normal handheld camera for the rest of the film is interesting. Also, everything changes: in Selma's musical fantasy world, things are brighter, cleaner. But once you switch back to the real world, the transition is jarring and effective.

All of this would make for a very interesting movie musical. The problem is, there still has to be a movie to go along with it. It's here that Von Trier falls miserably short. True, the cast all do very well in the roles they were given. But unfortunately, the story around them is painfully depressing without a point. Von Trier obviously had a story to tell, but he didn't want anything like logic or reality or decent plotting to get in the way of how he told it. Do you remember those Bronte novels in which if only one character would say one thing at any time during the story, every single tragic thing that happened afterwards could have been avoided? Didn't that make you nucking futs? Well, it did the same for me, and so did this film. So much so that when the film finally does resolve, instead of being a magnificent heartwrenching finale, it's contrived to the point where you feel more sorry for the actors involved than the characters they're portraying.

It's depressing to think that the reports post-release of the film, that this would be Björk's last foray into acting. I hate that she wasted such incredible, heretofore untapped talent on this film. If you want to know how not to make a movie musical, then watching this film could have some merit. And if you must watch it, at least don't pay any money for it.

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