I love new Bjšrk
Danish innovator Lars Von Trier and Icelandic singer Bjšrk revolutionize the musical with the astonishing "Dancer in the Dark."
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
The musical is dead. Long live the musical!
If anyone could breathe new life into an all but extinct genre,
it's Lars Von Trier. Co-founder of the Dogme 95 school of filmmaking, a
Danish cooperative which eschews traditional cinematic conventions and
pioneers the production of films shot on undressed
sets with handheld cameras using natural light, Von Trier ("Breaking the
Waves") has not only resurrected the musical in his latest film, "Dancer in
the Dark," he has reinvented it.
|DANCER IN THE DARK|
|Written and directed by: Lars Von Trier.|
Cast: Bjšrk, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Stormare, David Morse, Jean-Marc Barr,
Joel Grey, Luke Reilly, Cara Seymour, Reathel Bean, Siobhan Fallon,
Udo Kier, Zeljko Ivanek.
Cinematography: Robby MŸller.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
The film, which stars Icelandic pop ingenue Bjšrk Gudmundsdottir
(aka Bjšrk) along with Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, and Peter Stormare,
takes as its inspiration a relatively straightforward melodrama. By
generously applying the revolutionary Dogme 95 technique, however, Von
Trier is able to transform it into a tragedy of near-unbearable proportions.
Bjšrk plays Selma, a Czech immigrant who, along with her
ten-year-old son, is slowly losing her eyesight to a hereditary disease.
Selma labors long hours in a factory making stainless steel sinks to pay
for an operation which could save her son's sight. In order to escape the
stresses of her daily routine, Selma daydreams, imagining herself leading
lavish Hollywood production numbers. These fantasies are triggered by the
cacophony of sounds around her the rhythmic grinding of the machinery, the
repetitious sounds of metal against metal, and so on.
The first of these musical interludes there can't be more than
five or six musical sequences in the entire 140-minute film starts out
modestly but awkwardly. It's jarring by its very nature, by its existence
in a modern-day screenplay. But it slowly starts to grab hold. Bjšrk's
moving vocals and the simple, almost childlike lyrics echo Selma's simple,
childlike existence. The sequence is kinetic and expertly edited. Even
Deneuve looks comfortable. By the time the second song kicks in Selma and
her friend Jeff (Stormare, nicely cast against type) are crossing a railway
bridge when a train barrels through you've already adjusted to the
unusualness of the sequences and begin to experience them on their own
terms, as a cathartic expression of release, of joy. The train's wheels
start thumping, Bjšrk starts jumping, and the emotion uncannily swells in
Deneuve plays Selma's friend and co-worker, Kathy, and Morse plays
a weak and duplicitous police officer named Bill who rents Selma a trailer
on his land. When Bill approaches Selma for a loan, claiming he cannot
control his wife's excessive spending habits, Selma cannot oblige him. The
betrayal which follows is unconscionable, the deed which follows it
shattering, and the self-sacrifice which follows it the ultimate. Parts of
"Dancer in the Dark" are hard to watch and the climax is darned near
impossible to take.
The latest attempts by Hollywood to revive the movie musical have
met with disappointing returns. Disney's "Newsies" from 1992 was an
out-and-out flop, and nervous executives on James L. Brooks' "I'll Do
Anything" a year later had all of its musical numbers axed before the
film's release. The three elements which make "Dancer in the Dark" so
powerful are those which could also distance the casual viewer: the
in-their-faces, home movie-like camerawork; the song-and-dance routines
themselves; and the overwhelming emotional content. But Bjšrk is brilliant
and watch her you must. The waif-like actress earned the Best Actress
award at Cannes this year and the film took the Palm d'Or for its director.
Surely it's no coincidence that two of the most remarkable films of
the past few years Thomas Vinterberg's "The Celebration" and now "Dancer
in the Dark" have championed the Dogme 95 movement. Like Vinterberg's
film before it, "Dancer in the Dark" re-imagines old territory in a way
that is brave, emotive, and truly astonishing.
|OCTOBER 9, 2000|
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