Dancer in the Dark

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Dancer in the Dark is a musical film from the year 2000. It was directed by Lars von Trier and stars Bjrk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse and Peter Stormare. The movie is part three in a trilogy of films by von Trier that included "Breaking the Waves" and "The Idiots (Danish: Idioterne)". The soundtrack for the film, released as the album Selmasongs, was created entirely by Bjrk.

The film, which takes place in America in 1964, focuses around Selma (Bjrk), a Czech immigrant who has moved to the States with her teenaged son, Gene. They live a life of poverty as Selma works at a factory with her good friend Cathy, who she nicknames Cvalda (Deneuve). She rents a trailer home on the property of town policeman Bill (Morse) and his wife Linda. She is also pursued by the shy but persistent Jeff (Stormare) who also works at the factory.

What no one in Selma's life knows is that she has a hereditary, degenerative disease which is gradually causing her to go blind. She has been saving up every penny that she makes (in a tin can in her kitchen) to pay for an operation which will prevent her young son from the same fate.

To escape the misery of her daily life Selma accompanies Cvalda to the local cinema where together they watch fabulous Hollywood musicals (or more accurately, Selma listens as Cvalda describes them to her (to the annoyment of another patron) or acts out the dance steps upon Selma's hand using her fingers.) In her day-to-day life, when things are too boring or upsetting, Selma slips into daydreams or perhaps a trance-like state where she imagines the ordinary circumstances and individuals around her have erupted into elaborate musical theater numbers. These songs, as do many of Bjork's songs, take some sort of real life noise (from factory machines buzzing to the sound of a flag rapping against a flag pole in the wind) as an underlying rhythm.

Unfortunately she slips into one such trance while working a machine at the factory, which she breaks. She is fired from her job. Soon Jeff and Cvalda begin to realize that Selma can barely see at all. Additionally, Bill reveals to Selma that he has had a gambling problem and asks her for a loan, which she declines to give. To comfort Bill Selma reveals her secret blindness, hoping that together they can share one another's secret. Bill then hides in the corner of Selma's home, knowing she can't see him, and watches as she puts some money in her kitchen tin.

The next day when Selma comes home she finds the tin is empty. She goes next door to report the theft to Bill and Linda only to hear Linda discussing how Bill has brought home their safe deposit box to count their savings. She additionally reveals that Bill has "confessed" his affair with Selma, and that Selma must move out immediately. Knowing that Bill was broke and that the money he is counting must be hers, she confronts him and attempts to take the money back. He draws a gun on her and in a struggle he is shot.

Linda discovers the two of them and assumed that Selma was attempting to steal the money and runs off to tell the police. Bill begs Selma to take his life, and she shoots at him several times but he doesn't die. In the end she bashes his head in with the safe deposit box. (In one of the scenes, Selma slips into a trance and imagines that Bill's corpse stands up and slow dances with her, urging her to run to freedom.) She does, and takes the money to the Institute for the Blind to pay for her son's operation before the police can take it from her.

Eventually Selma is caught and put on trial. It is here that she is pegged as a Communist sympathizer and murderess. Although she tells as much truth about the situation as she can, she refuses to reveal Bill's secret because she promised not to. Additionally, when her claims that the reason she didn't have any money was because she was sending it to her father in Czechoslovakia are proven false, she is convicted and sentenced to death.

Cvalda and Jeff eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together and get back Selma's money, using it instead to pay for a trial lawyer who can free her. Selma becomes furious and refuses the lawyer, opting instead to die rather than allow her son to go blind. In the end Selma is hanged to death, an innocent woman doing nothing more than trying to make a better life for her child.

Actress Bjrk Guðmundsdttir, who is known mostly for her musical career, has described the process of making this film as so emotionally taxing and trying that she will not make any appearances in film ever again. Her disagreements with von Trier over the content of the film are well-known (she wanted the ending more uplifting; the song over the credits seems to aid this concept). Denueve and others have described her performance as feeling rather than acting.

The movie was filmed with over 100 digital cameras so that multiple angles of every scene could be captured and filmed. It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to standing ovations and controversy and was awarded the Golden Palm and the Best Actress award for Bjrk. The song "I've Seen It All" was nominated for an Oscar for best song, the performance of which launched Bjrk's famous 'swan-dress'. A list of all of the various awards and nominations:

  • Academy Award - Best Song (I've Seen It All - Nominated)
  • Awards of the Japanese Academy - Best Foreign Film (Won)
  • Bodil Award - Best Actress (Bjrk - Won)
  • Bodil Award - Best Film (Nominated)
  • Brit Awards - Best Soundtrack (Nominated)
  • Camerimage Awards - Gold Frog Award (Nominated)
  • Cannes Film Festival - Best Actress (Bjrk - Won)
  • Cannes Film Festival - Golden Palm Award (Won)
  • Chicago Film Critics Association Awards - Best Actress (Bjrk - Nominated)
  • Chicago Film Critics Association Awards - Best Original Score (Nominated)
  • Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain - Best Foreign Film (Nominated)
  • Cesar Awards (France) - Best Foreign Film (Nominated)
  • Edda Awards (Ireland) - Best Actress (Bjrk - Won)
  • European Film Awards - Best Actress (Bjrk - Won)
  • European Film Awards - Best Film (Won)
  • Golden Globe Awards - Best Actress in a Film (Bjrk - Nominated)
  • Golden Globe Awards - Best Original Song (I've Seen It All - Nominated)
  • Golden Satellite Awards - Best Original Song (I've Seen It All - Won)
  • Golden Satellite Awards - Best Drama (Nominated)
  • Golden Satellite Awards - Best Actress, Drama (Bjrk - Nominated)
  • Golden Satellite Awards - Best Supporting Actress, Drama (Catherine Denevue - Nominated)
  • Goya Awards - Best European Film (Won)
  • Independent Spirit Awards - Best Foreign Film (Won)

In the light of all this acclaim it should be noted that not all critical reaction was positive. Some reviews claim that the movie is a noisy, painful, incoherent mess and criticise the melodramatic plot.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is how Von Trier very effectively uses virtually every negative Cold War era film cliche we've ever seen slung at the Eastern Block to describe Middle America: the relentless, demoralizing, dehumanizing work; grey, dismal weather, buildings & people; crushing hopelessness; inaccessible basic needs like health care; oppressive, callous, deadly authority & treacherous friends; even a dingy babushka for Selma. It is a grim and sobering vision.


Movies by Lars von Trier
The Element of Crime | Epidemic | Zentropa | Breaking the Waves | Idioterne * | Dancer in the Dark | Dogville | Manderlay | Washington
de:Dancer in the Dark

es:Dancer in the Dark fr:Dancer in the Dark it:Dancer in the Dark ja:ダンサー・イン・ザ・ダーク pl:Tańcząc w ciemnościach pt:Dancer in the Dark sv:Dancer in the Dark

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