DANCER IN THE DARK
Among the scenes I found most interesting was the march to the execution. She is going in silence. She refuses to have her case reopened and have her sentence commuted because it would take the $ she has saved for her son's operation. She chooses to give him sight, rather than to live.

-Review by Darrel Manson


DANCER IN THE DARK
(2000)


This page was created on October 30, 2000
This page was last updated on May 17, 2005

Directed by Lars von Trier
Written by Lars von Trier

Bj?k .... Selma
Catherine Deneuve .... Kathy
David Morse .... Bill
Peter Stormare .... Jeff
Udo Kier .... Dr. Porkorny
Joel Grey .... Oldrich Novy
Vincent Paterson .... Samuel
Cara Seymour .... Linda Jean-Marc
Barr .... Norman Vladan
Kostic .... Gene

Produced by Malte Forsell (line), Fridrik Th? Fridriksson (associate), Finn Gjerdrum (associate), Mogens Glad (associate), Anja Grafers (associate), Torleif Hauge (associate), Peter Aalbæk Jensen (executive), Lars J?sson (co-executive), Tero Kaukomaa (associate), Poul Erik Lindeborg (associate), Marianne Slot (co-executive), Els Vandevorst (associate), Vibeke Windel?
Original music by Bj?k
Cinematography by Robby M?ler
Film Editing by François Gédigier and Molly Marlene Stensgaard

Rated R for some violence.

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You don't need eyes to see.
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Selma
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Gene, her son.
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Bill, her neighbor
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Kathy, Friend at work
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Jeff the admirer
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Going blind
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At the factory. Click to see Kathy.
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Kill me

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Jeff

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The director
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The trial

SYNOPSIS:

Selma Jezkova (Bj?k) is a Czech immigrant, a single mother living in a trailer with her ten year-old son, Gene. Selma and Gene rent their home from their next-door neighbors, the local policeman Bill (Dave Morse) and his wife, Linda (Cara Seymour). Bill and Linda are model neighbors, often watching Gene while Selma works.

Selma works at a tool and die factory making stainless steel sinks; she supplements her income in her free time by carding hairpins. A hereditary disease is rapidly robbing Selma of her sight and she is determined to put away enough money to secure an operation for Gene before he suffers the same fate.

In the evenings, Selma and her friend Kathy (Catherine Deneuve) rehearse for an amateur production of 'The Sound of Music.' Their enthusiasm makes up for their inexperience although Kathy has only agreed to take part to humor her friend. Selma is playing Maria. Occasionally, the two friends go to the movies to watch musicals. To the annoyance of the rest of the audience, Kathy describes to Selma what her friend can not see.

Kathy suspects that Selma's vision is far worse than she lets on and she is surprised when her friend manages to pass an eye test required by the factory. In fact, Selma has copied the eye chart and committed it to memory. Meanwhile, her sight grows worse by the day.

Selma has an admirer, Jeff (Peter Stormare), who waits patiently outside the factory every day in hope that she will accept a lift home. Selma always refuses Jeff, but he waits for her anyway.

One evening, Selma's neighbor Bill confesses that his savings are exhausted and he fears that he will lose his house. Bill can't bring himself to tell his spendthrift wife, Linda, who thinks he has a private income. Selma confides in Bill that she is going blind and that she has almost saved enough money to pay for an operation for Gene. Bill and Selma part with the promise to keep their respective secrets.

At the factory, Selma finds it increasingly difficult to disguise her failing eyesight. She is continually distracted by the rhythm of the presses and the clattering of the steel sinks and begins to imagine that she and her co-workers are in a musical. The hissing and clanging of the machinery inspires daydreams of elaborate song and dance routines. But Selma's imagination is dangerous for an operator of industrial equipment and her lack of concentration doesn't go unnoticed by Norman, the shop foreman (Jean-Marc Barr). Kathy tries to protect her, but she too is worried about Selma's ability to work.

Bill asks Selma for a loan but she gently refuses, reminding him that her savings will save her child from blindness. He apologizes for asking. Back at the factory, over Kathy's protests, Selma takes on a night shift. Kathy is furious but when Selma arrives for her first night duty, Kathy is there, too.

Again, Bill goes to Selma, but this time he tells her that he has decided to confess to his wife that they are broke and hope for the best. He makes as if to leave Selma's trailer but hides in the corner instead, watching as she stashes her money in its hiding place.

Selma and Kathy go their rehearsal but it's obvious to Selma that she can't play Maria. She can no longer see the edge of the stage. She tells the director, Samuel (Vincent Paterson) that she would prefer to have a smaller part. At work, Norman reluctantly tells her that he must let her go. He gives Selma her final wage packet.

Jeff is waiting for Selma as she leaves the factory and walks her home along the train tracks. When Selma is nearly hit by an oncoming freight train, Jeff realizes that her vision has gone. Selma, imagining that the workers on the flatbed train are performing in her own private musical, asks Jeff to pick her up that afternoon for a drive. Arriving home, she goes to her hiding place to stash her final pay only to find that the tin is empty.

Selma goes to Bill, knowing that he has taken her money. Linda confronts her, saying that Bill has told her everything: Bill rebuffed Selma's advances and now she is seeking revenge. Selma insists on seeing Bill. He admits to taking the money, but refuses to turn it over until Selma puts him out of his misery. A struggle ensues and Bill is wounded. He begs her to finish the job and Selma complies. Linda has gone for the police. Selma, meanwhile, imagines another musical number full of forgiveness and reconciliation.

As the police sirens whine in the distance, Jeff comes for Selma and at her instructions, drives to a place in the woods. Selma leaves Jeff and makes her way alone, following a guide rope to the eye clinic. She successfully deposits her hard fought savings with Dr. Pokorny (Udo Kier) to ensure Gene's operation.

Jeff, oblivious to the scene at Bill and Linda's, takes Selma to her final rehearsal for 'The Sound of Music.' Samuel alerts the police and Selma is taking into custody.

At her trial, the prosecutor presents Selma as scheming and selfish. She is accused of exaggerating her handicap. Her story of working to support her elderly father in Czechoslovakia (which she invented to protect Gene from the truth about his eyesight) is exposed as a lie. Everything she offers in her own defense is dismissed. Selma is sent to death row, but not before she invents a courtroom number in which her imaginary father, the musical comedy star Olrich Novy (Joel Grey), does a tap routine on the judge's bench.

Kathy and Jeff make futile attempts to persuade Selma to enter a new plea. Selma, however, is unwilling to spend Gene's money on her own defense. Instead, she passes the time alone in her cell listening for any sounds that will distract her from the inevitable.

When the day arrives, the good hearted prison warden, Brenda (Siobhan Fallon) helps Selma to make her last walk with dignity. Paralyzed by fear, together with Brenda, Selma creates the beat for the finale.


A WOMAN CHRIST FIGURE

-Review by Darrel Manson

Pastor, Artesia Christian Church, Artesia, CA
http://netministries.org/see/churches/ch01198

Lars von Trier has come up with another woman Christ figure as he did in Breaking the Waves (although, not done quite as well is Breaking the Wave's Bess)

Dancer in the Dark may find its way to art houses in bigger cities, but unfortunately, for many it will only find its way to cable sometime in the future. (It's rated R and runs 2:20)

The basic plot revolves around Selma (played by Icelandic singer Bjork), a Czech who has come to the US in the early 60's where she and her son live in the state of Washington. Selma works operating a machine in a sink factory. She also spends her time putting bobby pins on cards as piece work to make extra money. She's going blind, and knows that her son will have the same problem, so she is saving the money for him to have an operation. Selma daydreams about life being a musical -- and this picture turns into a musical, but not like any musical you've ever seen.

In terms of performance, the film may not get enough play for Bjork to be nominated for an academy award, but you won't see a better performance. The rest of the cast, including Catherine Deneuve, also provide excellent work.

This is a strange movie. The tone of the movie is dark, but it is also a musical. The musical/daydream aspect is also a striking contrast to von Trier's handheld camera work, which makes the film extremely lifelike. (vonTrier is one of the original signatories of Dogma 95
[q.v., http://www.zentropa-film.com/dogme95/dogme95.htm], although this film does not fit the Dogma criteria. But the influence of the Dogma concept is still very obvious.) She is truly an innocent, but the movie ends with her being hung in prison - a very powerful scene.

Click for larger photoAmong the scenes I found most interesting, was the march to the execution. She is going in silence. She refuses to have her case reopened and have her sentence commuted because it would take the $ she has saved for her son's operation. She chooses to give him sight, rather than to live. But this scene of the walk from cell to the execution chamber is a great example of the mix of reality and daydream that occurs throughout the movie. She is willing to go, but afraid. Her body falls beneath the weight of her own cross, but as she walks along, she (in her daydream) sings and dances. At the execution, her friends are there as witnesses, just as the disciples watched at a distance. After she is hung, the camera moves back up to the platform where now just one guard stands, very much like the centurion at the cross.

It is a difficult and an intense movie. It certainly dominated my wife's and my conversation at dinner after we saw it. It can be unnerving. Before the movie the manager of the theater came into the theater and thanked the viewers for being willing to try something different in movies. It certainly is.
-- Darrel Manson
Pastor, Artesia Christian Church, Artesia, CA
http://netministries.org/see/churches/ch01198

BIGGEST FRAUD
Subject: Dancer in the Dark
Date: Sat, 4 Nov 2000
From: JER

"Dancer in the Dark" is the biggest fraud perpetrated on the moviegoing public since "The Phantom Menace." The shaky-cam made me dizzy within the first 20 minutes. I work at a theater in Chicago that's showing the film and we've been getting complaints about this from since opening day. What is this movie anyway? It fails as a musical. I often times had a hard time understanding what Bjork was saying through her thick Icelandic accent. With one exception, the musical numbers added nothing of value to the to the plot, characterizations, or articulating the themes of the story. I read that Lars Trier (he added the "von" himself) used up to 100 cameras to shoot the musical numbers. Any director worth his salt knows what to shoot and doesn't need 100 cameras. And what is it with the plot. Didn't any one investigating the murder think to find out about the money that was stolen. Why didn't anybody ask the bank if the cop had withdrawn the money from an account? Talk about an ugly movie. Enough with the digital video. It ain't film. Film stock is capable of rendering the wash out colors and much better able to deliver the rich, bright colors. Shame on the great Robby Muller for putting his name on this junk. Skip this overwrought, thoughtless movie and rent "Singin' in the Rain."

AWSOME, ORIGINAL, DEEP!
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2000
From: Adele Sakler

Dancer In The Dark is one of the best films i have seen in a long time! It is disturbing, moving, inspiring, thought-provoking, passionate, and beautiful. It says a lot when twice it is brought up as to why Selma did not abort Gene knowing she would pass on her eye disease to him and she decided to keep him. Today, the woman would have aborted the baby. i found the musical numbers wonderful and an escape not only for Selma, but the audience as well, from the sometimes overwhelming and sad lives of these people. B^jork's voice is rich and haunting and perfect for the story. i think word-of-mouth will sell this film. In my opinion, B^jork should be nominated and take home the staue next spring for THE BEST ACTRESS! All the actors were strong and realistic. Catherine Deneuve was awesome and looked beautiful. David Morse nailed his character, Bill. What a turn from the role he played as a kind prison guard in The Green Mile! He is a wonderful and versatile actor. i loved Peter Stormare as the faithful yet clueless Jeff. One of my favorite characters was the sympathetic prison guard. Most times prison guards are played as cruel, hard, unfeeling, and violent jerks. It was nice to see the guard extend empathy, kindness, compassion, and concern for Selma. i loved the foreshadowing Selma gave us to the end of the film. She tells Bill that she hates the ending of musicals because then they are over and that they should end before the last song begins. She states that when the last song is played the camera pulls back and rises. This is exactly what happens at the end of this film/musical. It is sad yet poetic. Definitely worth repeat viewings as there is so much said with depth and can be missed as one hangs on to these passionately spoken words, because ultimately, the scene has to move on.
Bravo, Lars von Trier! Bravo,
B^jork! Bravo,
ensemble cast!
Bravo, Crew

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