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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 24.34%
Average: 1.97%
Pretty Bad: 0.66%
Total Crap: 4.61%

10 reviews, 92 user ratings

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Dancer in the Dark
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Stunning von Trier musical; great Björk performance."
5 stars

'Dancer in the Dark' was 2000's love-it-or-loathe-it film (and I do mean loathe -- some critics have downright spit on it). Count me, if you must put it this way, among the suckers who fell for it.

A polarizing film by the Danish auteur Lars von Trier, whose 1996 Breaking the Waves similarly split moviegoers, Dancer in the Dark dares to be a dark-tinged musical with swooning flights of fantasy and vertiginous plunges into despair. Some may find this mixture unpalatable and manipulative; I find it intoxicating, a reminder of what movies can do better than any other medium. The movie is a tribute to the raw power of Hollywood melodrama and the bliss of Hollywood musicals, neither of which has been seen much in such impassioned, undiluted form in these heavily ironic times.

Von Trier introduced Emily Watson to the global audience in Breaking the Waves; here, he introduces Björk -- the Icelandic pop singer who needs no intro to music buffs -- to the big screen. Originally tapped by von Trier only to write and compose the film's songs, Björk wound up playing the heroine, Selma Jezkova, a Czechoslovakian factory worker whose congenital eye disorder will soon render her blind. Selma lives in squalor with her young son Gene (Vladica Kostic), who will lose his sight eventually unless Selma works hard enough to pay for his surgery.

That's the set-up, and that's about all I'm going to reveal -- not that anyone well-fed on centuries of melodrama couldn't forecast most of the film's emotional storms. But as storms go, Dancer in the Dark is about as perfect as we're likely to get this year. Like the bedridden hero of The Singing Detective, Selma uses her memories of Hollywood musicals (which she cherishes) as an escape hatch -- from the tedium of her job and, later, from the nightmare her life has become.

Von Trier's cinematographer Robby Müller shoots everything with drab lighting and a hand-held camera that never met a whip-pan it didn't like -- until von Trier takes us into Selma's head, at which point the film blushes and blossoms into vibrant color as the characters break into song and dance. Then it's back to gray reality again. As the film chases down its climax, it flips back and forth between the styles much more often, indicating Selma's greater need for escape.

The movie boasts one of the more oddball ensembles in recent memory -- Catherine Deneuve as Selma's concerned co-worker (who rehearses with her in an after-hours local production of The Sound of Music); David Morse as a financially strapped policeman and Cara Seymour (the ill-fated prostitute "Christie" in American Psycho) as his shopaholic wife; Peter Stormare (the monosyllabic brute in Fargo) in a rare nice-guy turn as a factory worker who's sweet on Selma; even von Trier mainstays Stellan Skarsgård and Udo Kier in small roles. But everyone here, as out-of-place as they seem, also seems inexplicably right, and that begins with the casting of Björk, who took the Best Actress prize at Cannes (the film itself won the Palme d'Or).

This isn't a diva vanity project á la Madonna in Evita. Björk is in great voice, which is a bit like saying that rain is wet; but the surprise here is how deeply and fully she gives herself to Selma's extremes of emotion. Reportedly her relationship with von Trier became very strained during filming, and my guess is that he forced her to go where she would rather not have gone. I can only speak as a selfish moviegoer and say that whatever psychic turmoil Björk endured has translated into a star performance alternately radiant and lacerating, sometimes both at once.

Is Dancer in the Dark an ironic parody of musicals or a banal recap of them? Neither tag rings a bell with me. Even without the musical numbers, von Trier has given us a compelling story with original characters. David Morse's cop, for instance, is set up as the villain of the piece, but he's about the nicest and most pitiable villain you could imagine. A female prison guard near the end (soulfully played by Siobhan Fallon, a Saturday Night Live veteran) isn't the usual butch meanie, but a woman whose heart goes out to Selma in her time of trauma. Selma's son, despite her devoting her life to him, barely even notices her most of the time -- he's a realistically self-absorbed kid. The story consistently rubs against the grain of your expectations.

Mingled with the drizzly realism are some of the most dazzling musical numbers in years -- and the happier Selma looks in these numbers, the sadder the movie gets as it goes on. 'Dancer in the Dark' is a true workout, an experience whose sights and sounds will needle you for days whether you like it or not. Fortunately, I loved it.

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originally posted: 01/12/07 16:01:33
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User Comments

12/06/19 David Hollingsworth A truly bleak, disturbing, but masterful experience. 5 stars
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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