Dancer in the Dark is a film in the best melodramatic style, with the protagonist giving up everything for her son. What makes it special is the clever use of music.This musical is about Selma (Bjork), a poor Czech immigrant to Washington State in the early 1960s. She has managed to keep secret her deteriorating eyesight, and has saved almost enough money to give her son the operation he needs to prevent him losing his sight. She escapes her mundane factory life by daydreaming, imagining herself to be the centre of a great musical. But Selma's need for fantasy not only helps her, it is also her fatal flaw.
The original score, music by Bjork and lyrics mostly by von Trier and Sjon Sigurdsson, is carefully woven into the fabric of the film. I'm not a big fan of Bjork's music, but here it provides a perfect contrast with the Hollywood musicals which Selma loves. Also, if dance is your thing, you'll enjoy the choreography by Vincent Paterson, who has also worked on Evita and The Birdcage. The dance is not the pure showbiz style, but rather how Selma would have her factory co-workers dance.
This is the final in von Trier's "Golden Heart" trilogy about women who sacrifice everything to save those they love the most. If you hated The Idiots, don't let that put you off seeing Dancer in the Dark. The wobbly hand held camera is still here in parts, but it works well contrasted with the smoother Hollywood-style musical sequences. I am so impressed by Bjork's performance - she is perfectly cast as the naïve woman who thinks with her heart first and last. I'm not surprised she won the Best Actress Palm at Cannes this year, or that Dancer in the Dark was awarded Best Film there.There were plenty of tissues in use by the end of Dancer in the Dark. It's a long film, with plenty of gut-wrenching moments, as Selma moves steadily towards her fate. But it is also an exercise in the joy of living, making the most of what you have, even if you have to escape into your imagination to fully realise that pleasure. And what irony - music is used to escape cold hard reality, and it is cold hard reality that Selma ends up with.--Emma Flanagan