"Dancer in the Dark" review by Vittorio Carli
"Dancer in the Dark" is a remarkable, unique, and emotionally devastating film. It's also unlike any movie I've ever seen. It expertly combines musical performances, black comedy, and silent film satire into a really bizarre cinematic stew. This is surely the most daring. experimental, and visionary film of the year.
It is about an insane factory worker who escapes from reality by imagining that the whole world is a Hollywood musical. Most of the crazy musical numbers actually take place in her head.
The film takes place in the US in 1964, but it was actually shot in Sweden because the director is afraid of flying.
"Dancer in the Dark" deservedly won the Palme D'Or, the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival. Bjork, the film's talented star also won for best female performance. The film is unlikely to get any Oscars because it is too subversive and unconventional.
No film since "Blue Velvet" has polarized audiences so completely. Many critics hailed "Dancer in the Dark" as a masterpiece and others savagely panned it as a disaster. One critic even suggested that the elf-like Bjork should give up film and singing so that she can become one of Santa's helpers. In my opinion, the film is a complete triumph.
The film was shot using 100 digital cameras, and it often has a cheap look like a cinema verite film or a documentary. It also has jerky, unsettling camera movements. The film could've been titled "The Blair Sound of Music."
Lars Von Trier, the leader of the radical film group, Dogma '95, directed "Dancer in the Dark." Dogma ' 95 films reject many modern film conventions such as unnatural lighting, big stars, genre patterns, and special effects. Von Trier made the great supernatural hospital series "The Kingdom" (four of the episodes are available on video), but he is best known for directing the Oscar nominated film "Breaking the Waves" which featured a brilliant performance by Emily Watson.
"Dancer and the Dark" bears some similarity to this earlier film because it too features an innocent heroine who is condemned for society for being different. The film also makes fun of Cold War paranoia because some people accuse the apolitical Selma of being a Communist.
During the first half of the film, Von Trier seems to be intentionally trying to annoy and agitate the audience. All of the film's stock characters would be normal in a silent film or musical, but in the context of a more modern setting, they all seem to be mentally challenged or insane. In the first part of the film, Von Trier is savagely attacking earlier film conventions by showing how ridiculous they'd be in the modern day.
Then something amazing happens. Von Trier seems to fall in love with the characters and some of the conventions; he reaches for the audience member's hearts and manages to capture them. The second half is beautiful, tragic, and horrifying --all at once.
"Dancer in the Dark" stars the talented but odd Icelandic singer named Bjork. I've been a big fan of her work for years. Bjork is pretty original, but she's a little like a cross between Nico and David Bowie with a little Yoko Ono mixed in.
Selma (Bjork in a role few could play) is a hardworking, mentally challenged immigrant from Czechoslovakia who is quickly going blind. Selma works on a degrading factory assembly line job and she he saves all her money. She is obsessed with getting an operation for her son in order to prevent him from also losing his sight.
She also loves musicals and she practices for the lead role in a local production of "The Sound of Music." Bjork sings the songs from the play in an intentionally preposterous way, and the film seems to be deliberately trying to agitate fans of the musical.
She has a slow-witted suitor, Jeff (played by the Swedish actor Peter Stormare) who loves her dearly, but she has too much on her plate to keep a boyfriend. She acts friendly to him without encouraging his devotion.
There is also a cop who constantly confides in her. His wife is a spendthrift and he keeps pestering Selma to lend him money so he can avoid bankruptcy. In his own way, his character is much more pathetic than Selma. At least she has spirit and a lust for life.
The still ravishing Catherine Deneuve (the woman never seems to age) plays her best friend Kathy. Kathy admires Selmas saintly character and tries to help her out where she can, Deneve was a star of "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," another film which tried to extend the range of the musicals. Deneuve was cast in homage the earlier film.
"Dancer in the Dark" has some of the most mind blowing musical scenes I've ever seen. In one sequence, a woman kills a man then she does a happy dance with his ghost.
The songs themselves are also highly innovative. Some of them use the mechanical sounds of the factory as part of the techno pop numbers, which sound like electro-Broadway.
"Dancer in the Dark" is as innovative and riveting as "Pulp Fiction," and it's as moving as "Life as Beautiful." The "Dancer in the Dark" soundtrack (titled "Selma Songs") is as terrific as "Purple Rain" or "Quadrophenia." Everyone who cares about the future of cinema should see "Dancer in the Dark."
Directed by Lars Von Trier, Starring Bjork (Selma), Catherine Deneuve (Kathy). Vladica Kostic (Czeck)., Dave Morse (Bill), Peter Stormare (Jeff), Joel Grey (Oldrich Novy), Playing at he Century Landmark Theater and the Fine Arts Theater. Star Rating ****, Rated R for violence, Running Time: 160 minutes
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