Dancer In the Dark; Musical Melodrama, 140 minutes; Starring: Bjork Gudmundsdottir, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Cara Seymour, Vladan Kostic; Written and Directed by Lars von Trier; Fine Life Features Production, 2000
JAKARTA (JP): People only know Bjork as a singer. But she can act too. Look at her debut exploration in Dancer in the Dark — winner of the Palme D’Or for the Best Director and the Best Female Performance at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.
Dancer In the Dark, unusually, opens with some abstract paintings, without credit titles. It’s a story about Selma Yezkova (Bjork), a Czech-born immigrant to the United States, in a suburb of Washington in 1964.
The single mother lives in a trailer with her 12-year-old son Gene (Vladan Kostic). They rent the trailer from neighbors, a local policeman Bill (David Morse) and his wife Linda (Cara Seymour).
Selma is gradually losing her eyesight due to a hereditary disease. To prevent the same fate affecting her son, she plans to have him operated on. She works really hard to save money, even working night shifts.
She’s lucky to have a faithful friend Kathy (Catherine Deneuve), who realizes her handicap, and accompanies her during the night shifts. Kathy always describes every detail when they watch musical movies and takes Selma to a music class where she has a role as Maria in a performance of The Sound of Music.
Selma also has to deal with Jeff, who likes her and always waits for her patiently, to offer a home. But she always turns it down.
One day, Bill steals Selma’s money, which had been saved to pay for her son’s surgery. When Selma asks Bill to return the money, they fight and the police officer is accidentally shot.
After the incident, Selma goes to pay for the surgery, using the false name of Oldrich Novy, a musical figure.
However, she gets arrested when attending her music rehearsal, as the director informs the police.
She fails to prove her innocence in court and is sentenced to death. Kathy and Jeff try to save her. Can they save their poor friend? It’s unfair to reveal the ending because it would be more satisfying for you to watch the movie yourselves.
Danish director Lars von Trier manages to portray the feel or atmosphere of a factory, truck, house, prison and courtroom to produce a musical performance that is a fascinating composition, completely different from the conventional, glamorous Hollywood musical.
Von Trier perfectly explores both Icelandic Bjork’s singing and acting talents. She receives huge support from French veteran actress Deneuve and American actor Morse. The active, moving camera makes the film more dynamic.
Bjork also composed the original score — a blend of funk, new wave and pop music — for the movie, as well as stunning the audience with her fascinating vocals. Among the songs are I’ve Seen It All — which earned an Oscar nomination for the Best Soundtrack, In the Musicals and Scatterheart. She recorded the songs in her Selmasongs album released last year.
Dancer In the Dark is von Trier’s second trilogy following Breaking the Waves (1996) starring Emily Watson, and The Idiots (1998) featuring Badil Largensen. The first trilogy is The Element of Crime (1984), Epidemic (1987) and Europa/Zentropa (1991).
The Jakarta Post
Sat, Sep 29 2001