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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> October 2000 >> Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
October 2000
IMDB Name:
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Lars von Trier
drama, musical
MPAA Rating:
R for some violence.

Strobe Light

Dancer in the Dark is a tragic film with lighthearted musical interludes injected in the middle. Just when the movie approaches unwatchable sadness, Björk bursts into song and the movie shifts gears. Unlike the Hollywood musicals her character loves so much, her situation is no better when she comes out of her daydream. This emotional yo-yo highlights the agony of her character like no movie I've seen in a while. Björk's performance is a terrific match to the Lars von Trier script, and the combination made me sob. von Trier's device of having a character be undone by her most noble characteristics makes the movie that much more heartwrenching. In spite of anything negative I might seem to say, the movie worked magnificently.

The segues into the songs may be contrived, but I wouldn't want to see the movie without them. Björk's voice and singing style are instantly recognizable. They especially lend a funny twist to "My Favorite Things". I am not particularly familiar with Björk's discography, but she's crafted songs that are a great blend of cheesy musical lyrics and her own compositional peculiarities. Since the movie was set in 1958, though, it would be nice to have the music orchestrated to match even if the songs were otherwise untouched.

This is my first experience with a Lars von Trier film. He is one of the authors of Dogme 95, a manifesto intended to spark a rethinking of how movies should be made. Although Dancer in the Dark does not adhere to all of the rules of Dogme 95, certain elements are borrowed. The primary camera work is entirely hand-held. In contrast, the dance sequences are edited together from a hundred perspectives of a few performances. Both sometimes feel like the exact opposite of what is required by the scene. At the very least, the constant cutting during the musical numbers violates Fred Astaire's rule of using a few full-body pieces to reduce the suspicion of camera trickery.

Technical things aside, von Trier earns terrific performances from much of the cast. Catherine Deneuve brings her considerable talent to the role of Kathy. David Morse and Peter Stormare both do wonderful things in their quiet portrayals. Ultimately, Björk steals the movie. She plays the part so believably that there could hardly be any room left for her own personality during the production. She's sworn that this will be her last movie, but she can rest assured that this is the performance of a lifetime.

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Copyright 2000 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.