Dancer in the Dark (2000) Movie Review

First let me congratulate Bjork on her first and (according to her) last performance as an actress in a motion picture. Bjork was seemingly born for the role of Selma, a mousy, even childish woman who, surprisingly actually has a son to care for, even though it’s a miracle she can care for herself. Catherine Deneuve, still looking radiant and beautiful in her later years, is Kathy, Selma’s friend and, to be frank, savior. You see it doesn’t help to be going blind when you’re working in a factory with thousand-pound machines grinding, pumping, and crushing away. David Morse has a supporting role as Bill, Selma’s neighbor, who she is obviously infatuated with. I guess you could call it a schoolgirl crush. Bill, on the other hand, wants Selma for something other than her looks or her crush.

“Dancer” is my first introduction to a Denmark movie (what do you call a Denmark movie, Danish?), and I must confess to not exactly enjoying my experience. There are bright spots in the movie, as when, from Selma’s perspective, her surroundings transform into musical numbers. Selma, you see, is not only going blind, but also she’s in love with American musicals, and as such, she daydreams quite a bit. Again, this is dangerous for someone working in a factory with dangerous machines.

I believe Bjork did a tremendous job as the mousy and pathetic Selma, but for my money Deneuve’s Kathy is what made this movie at least just that bit more watchable. Kathy is strong-willed and understands loyalty. When Selma transfers to the night shift, she’s obviously out of her element, and immediately finds herself in trouble. Kathy shows up to save the day, working completely “on her own time” to help Selma keep her job. It is a great act of faith and loyalty, and Deneuve plays her role with perfection. I only regret that I have not seen any of her other movies, but hope to rectify that mistake soon.

As to the movie’s technical details — von Trier chose to shoot his movie with a handheld camera. The image looks grainy, and there’s a definite cinema verite feel to the movie. For the first ten minutes or so my head was spinning from the jerky camera movements, but eventually became accustomed to, if not enjoying, the technique. I do not believe there is one single stationary camera shot during the “real” moments in the movie. When it comes to the musical dream sequences, there are plenty of bright lights and more traditional shots. I can understand von Trier’s usage of handheld. It’s an aesthetic choice, and one that makes sense. Still, I wish he had cut down on the handheld.

The movie is not for everyone, and it certainly was not made for persons such as myself. I cannot hope to sit through 2 hours plus of grainy film and jerky motion. Perhaps I do not have the patience, or perhaps I just need a little bit more bang for my buck. The movie is extremely emotional, gritty, and real. Unfortunately, I do not go to the movies to see real life, and this movie was not my cup of tea.

Lars von Trier (director)
CAST: Bjork …. Selma Jezkova
Catherine Deneuve …. Kathy
David Morse …. Bill

Buy Dancer in the Dark on DVD