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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 24.5%
Average: 1.99%
Pretty Bad: 0.66%
Total Crap: 4.64%

10 reviews, 91 user ratings

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Dancer in the Dark
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by EricDSnider

"Ambitious and flawed, but you can't stop thinking about it."
4 stars

Danish director Lars von Trier attracted attention in 1995 when he began the "Dogme" movement of filmmaking, in which directors eschew special effects, camera tricks, musical scores and expensive film stock to create a more natural, back-to-basics movie.

He uses this style and provides numerous contrasts to it in his ambitious and flawed new "Dancer in the Dark."

Dogme filmmaking almost inevitably leads to bleakness, at least in the way the film looks, if not in its actual content. Real life is not as prettified, and real people don't look as glamorous, as they do in movies; Dogme takes that away.

"Dancer in the Dark" has a bleakness of tone, too, as well as physical appearance. Icelandic pop star Björk plays Selma, a European woman who has fled to America in 1964 to seek a better life for her son, Gene (Vladan Kostic), working at a factory to make ends meet.

Her secrets are that she is slowly going blind from a hereditary condition, and that she is covertly saving money for an operation -- not for herself, but for Gene, whom she believes will suffer the same fate unless he has this operation near his 15th birthday.

She lives in a trailer on the property of wealthy couple Bill (David Morse) and Linda (Cara Seymour). Bill confides in Selma that he's not actually wealthy anymore, and that he can't bring himself to tell Linda. He learns of Selma's secret money stash and, when he attempts to steal it from her, there are dire consequences.

It's an almost operatic sequence of events as things get worse and worse for Selma, and Björk is surprisingly good at portraying the tragic figure. (French film legend Catherine Deneuve is also marvelous as her best friend, Kathy.)

What keeps Selma going is her love for American musicals. The rhythms of life -- factory machines, trains, etc., -- sound like music to her, and she imagines herself and others bursting into song and dance, just like in the movies, as a means of escapism. This is where "Dancer in the Dark" leaves the Dogme concepts its been using fairly strictly and goes the opposite direction: dozens of cameras on tripods capturing numerous singers and dancers in lush, colorful settings. Just as the fantasy musical numbers take Selma away from her increasingly dismal life, they take the film away from its bleak, naturalistic tendencies.

Hard-core defenders of the movie are able to justify nearly all of its flaws as being part of the theme -- intentional, in other words. The movie often drags on too long, making it so the musical numbers are a welcome respite? Well, that's how it is for Selma, too. The lyrics in the songs are stupid and amateurish? Of course they are: Selma's making them up in her head as she goes along. Selma is at times almost senselessly heroic, using faulty reasoning to pass up opportunities to turn things around? What did you expect? This is a woman whose frequent musical fantasies have already demonstrated her tenuous grip on reality.

I can go along with some of this, to a point; however, I have difficulty believing von Trier made his movie 30 minutes too long on purpose, or that a writer whose native tongue was English couldn't have come up with better lyrics. (Von Trier scripted, too.)

Nonetheless, he uses his concept very well. By the time we've reached the haunting conclusion, Selma's situation has become so oppressively bleak that even with all her powers of imagination, the best she can do for a song is to count from one to 107. And at the VERY end, she's no longer singing in fantasy; she's doing it for real, out loud, in front of others, her last-ditch attempt to escape from life.

"Dancer in the Dark" is not a typical movie in any sense, and it's certainly not an average musical. There are only six or seven songs in the entire 140-minute film, and the first one doesn't appear until 40 minutes in. Furthermore, no one just bursts into song like they do in shows: Except for the one just mentioned, all the songs occur only in Selma's head; that's the point, after all, that she imagines her life as a musical in order to avoid the nightmare it really is.

The Dogme stuff sometimes lends theater-style realism -- like in Bill and Selma's scene of confessing their secrets to each other -- but more often it distracts. (Ironically, we're so used to conventional filmmaking that when we see something that is, technically, more realistic, it seems fake to us.) Letting the actors ad-lib a lot of their dialogue doesn't help any, as it often sounds TOO improvised: not like normal conversation, but like two actors trying really hard to improvise because they know the camera is rolling.

If you allow yourself to become enveloped in the whole thing, you're liable to be emotionally affected by it, as the performances are generally strong. Still, its melodrama and over-length detract, almost negating its point for originality.

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originally posted: 07/03/03 17:27:44
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User Comments

5/16/17 Louise How can a film with Bjork & Deneuve be so absolutely appalling? Hated it. 1 stars
1/25/14 Taco Town So powerful! Bjork deserved an Oscar 5 stars
11/26/12 Joel An utter masterpiece of cinema 5 stars
7/23/08 R.W. Welch Innovative, but too overtly maudlin to have much impact. 3 stars
3/14/08 A.l. Green A trulr memorable and mesmerising film. Bjork is brilliant in this film 5 stars
10/06/06 wei it is a brilliant film i have ever seen. 5 stars
12/17/05 K. Sear A beautifully traumatising film. 5 stars
11/01/05 nikola charles tatum your comment is so idiotic and pretencious and you are a stupid moron 5 stars
7/31/05 yuko makes you think 5 stars
7/19/05 Brian A very misunderstood film and WORTH its hype for ONCE! 5 stars
11/24/04 me powerful film, plus bjork rocks 5 stars
8/28/04 Abu the best movie for the millennium 5 stars
5/24/04 Daveman Fascinating film, doesn't need to be as "heartbreaking" as it's said to be (which it isn't) 5 stars
3/06/04 milko ramirez such a very very good musical, still i can stop cry 5 stars
1/14/04 Julia The wierdest musical I've ever seen with a conclusion that left me sobbing. 5 stars
1/02/04 mooglee this movie isn't for losers 5 stars
12/29/03 I Would Another masterpiece from Lars Von Trier. Even better than Breaking The Waves. 5 stars
12/27/03 Charles Tatum What's worse: Buhjork's awful songs or this shaky Dogma direction crap? 1 stars
12/25/03 paul heslep outstanding... far deeper than it might first appear 5 stars
12/08/03 Jeremy painful but incredible. nothing quite like bjork is hot.. 5 stars
9/28/03 Adnan Baysal It was the best movie I've seen 5 stars
7/11/03 harris Bjork's talent as an actress almost matches her music. 5 stars
3/19/03 Jack Sommersby Chance-taking yet just-plain unwatchable artsy garbage. Bjork's bush next time, please. 1 stars
2/19/03 Michael Lefebvre This Movie was a disgrace to musicals through all of time. Bjork was terrible! 1 stars
2/07/03 natasha_theobald wrenching drama with exceptional performances and moving moments 5 stars
1/01/03 Andy Todes bjork. most talented female alive? yepadoodle. 5 stars
12/28/02 grardo wow 5 stars
12/25/02 Goofy Maxwell Get outta yo' funk: no dance grooves here, only Bjork's primal screams healing the pain. 5 stars
11/20/02 Ionicera brilliant and sad if a little contrived 4 stars
10/18/02 Elizaveta a real film. 5 stars
10/06/02 moestifer aagghhrrr the pain! embrace the pain! 5 stars
9/26/02 Ross Santos It is very unpredictable and astonishing! such power!!! 5 stars
9/14/02 Eddie Pinietti This toon is fuckin' MINT (but I am biased, being a Bjorkite for several years' time) 5 stars
2/23/02 Unanon Weird and dark. Bjork's music blends beautifully with this rather pathetic story. Gorgeous 5 stars
12/10/01 maja go see"braking the waves",forget this movie! 2 stars
9/30/01 daniboy Easily 2000's best film (and best actress). Academy voters can go fuck themselves 5 stars
9/08/01 dazzza groundbreaking arthouse filmaking at its best,challenge you not to cry at the end 5 stars
8/14/01 shankster One of the 5 best films ever made. No, I'm fucking serious. See it! Now! 5 stars
7/06/01 Bluesblasts this is how film should be . an astonishing work of art . embrace björk . love von Trier' . 5 stars
7/05/01 keren azugi amazing 5 stars
6/28/01 Bokonan very moving 5 stars
6/27/01 Gizzy So heartbreaking, depressing, devastating...but oh so good 5 stars
6/07/01 Basil Bjork is amazing. 5 stars
5/14/01 Steve best movie of 2000 4 stars
5/10/01 de urooj i love sex and fucking 1 stars
5/07/01 The Bomb 69 Bjork should have won the Oscar, not even getting nominated was a travesty 5 stars
4/22/01 pennywise you just wanted to help her, protect her-made me cry 5 stars
4/01/01 Frankly Wow. I was amazed--such a powerful movie, hidden behind a small guise of depression. 5 stars
3/28/01 Alice Soares BRILLIANT- UNLIKE HOLLYWOOD TRIPE 5 stars
3/28/01 Larissa Rojas it´s the greatest movie I have ever seen 5 stars
3/27/01 Surprised Viewer Fascinating combination of a musical and drama. I was deeply moved by the ending. 4 stars
3/26/01 John Hall extraordinary if you can appreciate a perspective outside of normalcy 5 stars
3/23/01 greensweater annoying drivel 1 stars
3/22/01 Royce Vavrek absolutely fabulous 5 stars
3/19/01 J.Arcane A mighty film - top3 film of 2000 5 stars
2/21/01 Rocket Boy Sad, at times manipulative, with a touching performance from pop star Bjork. 4 stars
2/14/01 LOOBER One of the best foreign films of 2000 5 stars
1/31/01 msalq sa 5 stars
1/12/01 Belinda Emanuel Dancer in the Dark is a fresh cinematic experience if want to see some very powerful perfo 4 stars
1/09/01 matthew smith a staggering experience 4 stars
1/06/01 Viking Bjork is simply awesome !!! 5 stars
1/02/01 B. v. Wonderen superb acting of bjork she is really the best 5 stars
12/20/00 Nina an absolute cinematic masterpeice 5 stars
12/06/00 Silvia Probably the most amazing movie I've seen! 5 stars
12/05/00 David Feltl Great, though, for me, not as strong as Breaking The Waves 5 stars
11/19/00 Joan van der Lingen it really touched me, as it did the friends i saw it with. 5 stars
11/15/00 Stacie Unlike anything I have seen... reality-altering experience! 5 stars
11/15/00 Tony Jenkins Haunting. Unforgettable. 5 stars
11/14/00 Heather Weird & wonderful movie, absolute mindf*ck of an ending 5 stars
11/13/00 carol White Absolutely the best film I have seen... I went a s 5 stars
11/12/00 J.P. Couch Wonderful;excellent;amazing!!! 5 stars
11/07/00 mike lambie refreshing, bold, good wake-up to reality, wonderful to exercise many emotions 5 stars
11/07/00 Ethan is not like wow, its like woooow!!! 5 stars
11/01/00 Joel Lueders Oh my god, i didnt think it would touch me, as it went on.. But then I was taken over. 5 stars
11/01/00 Tom Rogers Takes far more than it returns 1 stars
10/29/00 jette bjork is incredible, fabulous, brilliant, with a voice like god? 5 stars
10/25/00 naz ok 3 stars
10/23/00 gil gilad superb, a masterpiece & a must !!!!! 5 stars
10/22/00 Mel Russell THis film is one of the best of all time, don't miss it! 5 stars
10/21/00 yihong yao not your unual type of happy hollywood movies. strong performance and direction 5 stars
10/21/00 Johnny Figaro Rewarding, exhausting, exhilarating... truly original art. 5 stars
10/19/00 Robert Cruickshank Good lord what a great film. 5 stars
10/18/00 Maarten Delmotte Absolutely breathtaking - sigh 5 stars
10/17/00 za Disturbing and memorable. Makes you think for days. 5 stars
10/10/00 Jeffrey A. Haas Dancer in the Dark is a post-modern masterpiece.It's innovative, daring, exhilarating! 5 stars
10/08/00 HobieKen Fantastic film. A very rare, truely original experience. 5 stars
10/08/00 skye chapman not for your average american film consumer (and that's good!) 4 stars
10/08/00 syd the feel-good mvie of the year! 5 stars
10/02/00 gil gilad unique & great, a masterpiece & a must see. 5 stars
9/19/00 engin dazzling! 5 stars
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  06-Oct-2000 (R)


  26-Dec-2000 (MA)

Directed by
  Lars Von Trier

Written by
  Lars Von Trier

  Catherine Deneuve
  Joel Grey
  Udo Kier
  David Morse
  Peter Stormare

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