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  •  REVIEW: DANCER IN THE DARK

    Dancer in the Dark

    I love new Bjrk

    Danish innovator Lars Von Trier and Icelandic singer Bjrk revolutionize the musical with the astonishing "Dancer in the Dark."

    By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
    Offoffoff.com

    The musical is dead. Long live the musical!

      
    DANCER IN THE DARK
    Written and directed by: Lars Von Trier.
    Cast: Bjrk, 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 Mller.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    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.

    The film, which stars Icelandic pop ingenue Bjrk Gudmundsdottir (aka Bjrk) 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.

    Bjrk 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.

    Dancer in the Dark

    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. Bjrk'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, Bjrk starts jumping, and the emotion uncannily swells in the breast.

    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 Bjrk 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
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Dancer in the Dark:

  • loved it   from nathalie, Nov 6, 2000
  • [no subject]   from Ponet, Dec 3, 2000
  • Terrible, but . . .   from Craig, Jan 1, 2001
  • Re: Terrible, but . . .   from makingitup, Feb 21, 2001
  • Re: Terrible, but . . .   from Craig, Feb 24, 2001
  • Re: Terrible, but . . .   from makingitup, Feb 25, 2001
  • Re: Terrible, but . . .   from Craig, Mar 28, 2001
  • Re: Terrible, but . . .   from Erin, Jan 18, 2004
  • my two crowns...   from Odd Harry, Mar 4, 2001
  • Bjork is great   from George McKinney, Mar 20, 2001
  • Re: Bjork is great   from Craig, Mar 30, 2001
  • DANCER IN THE DARK   from Erin MEYER, Jan 18, 2004

  • Post a comment on "Dancer in the Dark"