Director: Lars Von Trier
I often neglect realistic films, as in dramas with little stylistic blemishes or other-worldly elements. Sometimes events occur that end up with me sitting down to watch such a film, and to my surprise I am quite taken by it. Having said that, most of the Drama films I like tend to incorporate fantastical and/or surreal elements to spice things up. Lars Von Trier is a director who often takes harsh visions of reality and turns them into something grand. Dogville (2003) is his commentary on America in the form of an epic tale set amongst a minimal backdrop of chalk outlines, and in Melancholia (2011) Von Trier presents a family falling apart at a wedding the day before the world’s end. Dancer in the Dark is the first Von Trier film I ever saw and, to this day, my favourite.
Dancer in the Dark sees Iceland’s diva, Bjork, playing a poverty stricken woman, Selma, who is gradually going blind. She works hard at a factory to save enough money to prevent her young son from becoming blind himself. Unfortunately the selfish needs of the local townspeople create grave complications for Selma’s already troubled life. The outlandish element of this film comes from the musical dream sequences Selma slips into to escape the terrors of reality.
Bjork is magnificent as Selma. Her foreign and quirky child-like qualities accentuate Selma’s innocence and help make her the loveable character that she is. Bjork also lends her talents to the film’s wonderful soundtrack, which was incidentally released as her fifth studio album.
Dancer in the Dark is one of the saddest films I have ever seen. I just find it deeply upsetting to watch Selma being treated so horribly by every character she meets. However, Selma’s dream sequences, with their hyper-real explosions of colour and Bjork’s gorgeous songs, are a true delight and help alleviate the density of this drama. Due to the film’s surreal nature, one may question where Selma’s reality fits in with ours, which perhaps suggests that the film isn’t as distressing as I’ve made it out to be. Nevertheless, the wonderful musical sequences, the Dogme style in which the rest of the film is shot, and the cast’s subdued/naturalistic performances are all blended seamlessly together by maniac Lars Von Trier to create a totally gripping and unique film. If you get the opportunity to watch this gem, you’re in for an emotional challenge and a truly rich experience. Indulge!