This is a movie you must see, not to believe it, which cannot be done, but to feel it, which cannot be avoided.

DANCER IN THE DARK

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


With Dancer in the Dark, winner of the year 2000 Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, director Lars von Trier grabs us by the hands and pulls us into darkness. He uses his explosive imagination to create the immediacy and spontaneity he treasures. As one of the architects of the now fabled "vows of chastity" in the DOGMA 95 pact (natural light, hand-held cameras), he wields inventive tools to achieve authenticity. Mr. von Trier's search for his truth is never less than harrowing, often unwatchable in its anguish. If you saw Breaking the Waves, you would do well to ask yourself if you can survive another such journey.

Using the primitive tools he loves, von Trier has made a melodrama that manipulates our emotions until we are raw. To accomplish this, he turned to the Icelandic pop singer Bjork, who wrote and sings most of the score, and carries the main acting load. She is surrounded by a cast whose members are true believers in the vision of their director. Watch for a heartstopping turn by a prison guard and a nicely nostalgic moment courtesy of Joel Grey.

Selma (Bjork) is a Czech emigre, a single mother who is going blind from a genetic disorder that will also blind her son unless she can save the money for an operation. She works side by side in a factory with Kathy (a ravishing Catherine Deneuve in a hairband), about whom we know nothing except that she is Selma's protector. Selma and her son live in a trailer, which they rent from local policeman Bill (David Morse) and his wife. Don't for a moment wonder why the boy's operation has a deadline or why Catherine Deneuve is running a drill press in rural northwestern America. This film is not about plausibility.

As the life of the earthy young mother with the ethereal smile moves from dark to tragic, the sounds she hears, the pounding of the drill press, the clacking of train wheels, take her to an unlikely world that allows her, for a few moments, to close her eyes to the disintegration of her life. It is the world of the Hollywood musical, where nothing bad ever happens. Mr. von Trier has mixed footage from the old days with choreography on the spot-in the factory, at the railroad. It is accompanied by the soundtrack written and sung by Bjork, whose film character escapes into it. The director's audacity is monumental, but just try to wriggle away from the impact.

In this stylized improvisation that is the vision of one man, Bjork projects innocence and independence, probably in equal measure, to her director and to her audience. Lars von Trier and Bjork are brilliant here, however we choose to sum up their film. This is a movie you must see, not to believe it, which cannot be done, but to feel it, which cannot be avoided.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Fine Line Pictures
Rating : R
Running time : 2h14m


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