Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Review Date: October 07, 2000
Director: Lars Von Trier
Writer: Lars Von Trier
Producers: Vibeke Windelov
An immigrant woman who is slowly losing her sight is saving up money to give her kid an eye operation so that he will not go similarly blind in the future. Her neighbor is a married copper who needs dough to pay the mortgage and maintain his wife's standard way of spending money. The two become friends and share their troubles with one another, until the day things begin slowly disintegrating in both of their lives. Expect musical interludes during the film, as the lead character escapes reality via a fantasy world of Hollywood musicals.
A very strange, provocative film which cannot leave you without an opinion, featuring some great acting, some interesting musical numbers but ultimately an experiment that runs too long and doesn't provide for much true emotional attachment or appreciation. Now before every art lover begins to bust my balls, here's what didn't work for me in the film. This movie reminded me a lot of those modern pieces of art. You know, the kinds of pieces which amaze, delight and touch many quite deeply, while others shrug them off as just plain junk...and pretentious to boot! Well, I certainly wouldn't call this film junk (pretentious, natch), in fact, I admire it greatly for its courage to break all of the rules and try something very different, but for me, the overall film wasn't anything more than that...an experiment. And despite appreciating the acting throughout most of the film, I didn't particularly get attached to any of the characters, and could not feel anything for them as negative elements began to touch their lives. Perhaps it was because of the musical interludes which led me to interpret it all as one big fantasy, or perhaps it was because the film just moved too slowly and the lead character was too irrational and sacrificial for me to believe, but whatever the reason, the film itself left no emotional resonance on me. That's not to say that the movie stunk, but it certainly didn't overpower me as it did many others who apparently left the theatre deeply touched and/or moved. I enjoyed the performances, particularly Bjork, who should definitely get a nod for this, the songs and dance numbers, which were shot using 100 locked-down video cameras and a look different from the rest of the film, and the ambitiousness of it all. Mind you, I didn't particularly care for the lyrics of the songs, which were "spoken" rather than sung and just seemed kind of...well, lame. You haven't seen a movie until you've seen David Morse dance and "talk along" with a musical ditty. Trust me, see it and be afraid...be very afraid.
But here you have this very, very serious story being told by a woman whose motivations I just didn't buy into. She seemed to be writing off everything else in her life, just to get her son that operation. And even though I appreciate her altruistic sentiment, the film just wasn't able to pull me into its corner in that respect. And let's not kid each other here, this film is not for everyone. The so-called "art-house" crowd will undoubtedly eat it up, but I don't see most regular movie-goers appreciating much about this film. Films generally fall into several categories: fun cheese (which this is not and doesn't pretend to be), entertaining and light (which this is not and doesn't pretend to be), deep and emotional (which this wasn't for me but does pretend to be) or just interesting as a watch (which this was for me and did pretend to be). The film is also partly shot in Dogme95 style, natural lighting, lots of handheld cameras, a real "documentary" feel, which may or may not turn off certain people. I enjoyed the acting, appreciated the originality of it all and liked the songs by Bjork (but then again, I've always been a fan of hers), but didn't really "get into the story", thought it moved too slowly and ran way too long, and didn't buy into the lead character's motivations. Admittedly, there was one pretty harrowing scene in this film featuring one of the most realistic murders that I have seen on screen, but I guess that overall, you could say that I am on the fence with this one. I liked the experimental aspects of the movie, but not so much the complete movie itself. Now that was easy, wasn't it? Yipes.
(c) 2015 Berge Garabedian