Also recommended:
SNATCH (Film of the Month)other September releases

From October 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline
DANCER IN THE DARK
5 Stars

Lars von Trier on making Dancer in the Dark in this issue....

STARS: Björk, Catherine Deneuve,
David Morse, Peter Stormare, Joel Grey,
Cara Seymour, Jean-Marc Barr

DIRECTOR: Lars von Trier
SCREENPLAY: Lars von Trier
CERTIFICATE: 15DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: Film Four
RUNNING TIME: 2hr 17 mins
OPENING DATE (UK):September 15

Björk wades into the depths of Lars Von Trier's anti-musical
Violently unhappy...

Lars von Trier’s controversial win of the Palme d’Or will either send you scuttling for the exit or nail you to your seat. Determined to recreate the emotional power of an opera, the Danish film-maker set about seeing if he could manipulate an audience to the point of tears within a stylistic context, much like the opera did a hundred years ago. He was also equally resolved to reinvent the form of the musical in a fresh and exciting way. And so Dancer in the Dark is a full-fledged knees-up with a naturalistic bent.

To achieve his aim, von Trier (whose previous films Breaking the Waves and The Idiots met with equal controversy) has shot his film on video with a hand-held camera yet has also framed it on the widescreen. The result is like watching a documentary that periodically erupts into a full-scale musical complete with dance routines and chorus.

That this contrary conceit works so magnificently is due to a number of factors: a stunning central performance from Björk, the Icelandic pop star; a strong story that inexorably sucks one in; and the flighty inner life of its protagonist, who repeatedly withdraws into imaginary musical numbers.

Björk, who took a year before she agreed to take the central role, plays Selma, a simple Czech immigrant who has moved to rural America with her young son. A fanatic devotee of American musicals, she is playing Maria in an amateur production of The Sound of Music and imagines the rhythmic clangs and thumps of the factory where she works as the melody of an industrial orchestra. But Selma harbours a terrible secret, a confidence that she shares only with her troubled friend and neighbour Bill (Morse) – she is slowly going blind.

It is best to forget that Dancer in the Dark is a musical. After all, the songs are merely an extension of Selma’s imagination, an insight into the workings of her tortured soul. It is best to accept von Trier’s towering achievement as just a story, albeit one whose resonance strikes at the very heart of the viewer. With its bleached-out photography and naturalistic settings (filmed in Sweden), it is a fable that occupies its own space and time, but one that exudes a terrible, almost documentary-like authenticity. A masterpiece.

James Cameron-Wilson

Read our massive reviews section in this month's Film Review
Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

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Also reviewed online this month:
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SNATCH (FILM OF THE MONTH) • released Sept 1

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Sept 8 • Liberty Heights
Sept 29 • Love and Sex
Sept 8 • The Luzhin Defense
Sept 25 • Titus
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