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Czech immigrant and single mother Selma (Bjork) is a factory worker in rural Washington in the early 1960s whose passion for Hollywood musicals provides an escape from her harsh life. Her eyesight is failing and her son Gene (Vladica Kostic) will suffer the same fate unless he receives an expensive operation. When her policeman neighbour Bill (David Morse) steals her savings to prevent his house being repossessed, Selma confronts him and he is fatally wounded. Selma stands trial for his murder and, if convicted, faces the death sentence.

"Can't act, can't dance - can sing though it's a shame the songs are so banal. That's the unhappy critique Cannes Best Actress and Icelandic songbird Bjork receives from this reviewer after almost two and a half hours of cinema by endurance alleviated by brief moments of clarity and beauty. The awful feeling I had less than half way through this pretentious and extremely ugly-looking film is that I simply couldn't wait for poor Selma to be sent to the gallows so we could all go home and watch The Element Of Crime or The Kingdom on video to remind us of the time when Lars Von Trier made good films. Now the world's foremost cinematic charlatan Lars Trier (he added the "Von"himself) will no doubt hoodwink plenty of people into believing his film is one of great depth and importance (he did OK with the jury at Cannes, who gave it the Palme d'or) and tears will flow as the seemingly interminable tragedy unfolds but be equally prepared to find this a mind-numbing experience. This may not be a Dogma film but Trier can't help himself by going out of his way to waste the talents of ace DoP Robby Muller and make his own hand held video camerawork as amateurish as possible. He even manages to "inspire" choreographer Vincent Patterson (dance designer for Madonna's Like A Virgin clip and Michael Jackson's Bad tour) to come up with some of the most woeful dance routines you'll ever see. The nadir is the courtroom dance-along but then again the factory floor shuffle's not much chop either. At 80 minutes this might have been something because there are some moments in which Bjork's performance breaks through and Selma's tragedy threatens to move you but moments are all they remain. Elsewhere she seems like a poor lost soul who's somehow found herself in front of a camera and isn't really sure what to do. She's not helped by the fact that every scene seems dragged out to three times its welcome. I could go on and mention how sad it is to find Catherine Deneuve mixed up in this or how embarrassing it is to watch the fine actor David Morse serenading Bjork around the bathroom but you'll discover that and plenty more besides. If Lars Trier wants the whole whole town talking about him (and why do I think he does??) he's succeeded for all the wrong reasons."
Richard Kuipers

"Lars von Trier's recent films are literally sickening: if you sit too close, the lurching, blurry video camerawork can induce physical nausea. As in The Blair Witch Project, this often seems tactical, a way of insisting on the obscene literalness of video: a spectacle that isn't carefully composed, framed and lit, just brutally shoved in front of your face. Lars Von Trier makes melodramas that are so crude, shameless and ugly they plunge you into acute embarrassment, and then beyond embarrassment into horror, and beyond that lies the abyss. The ultimate example of this procedure to date, Dancer In The Dark, could easily be seen as an insulting near-parody of his arthouse hit Breaking The Waves. The plot again concerns a saintly child-woman who sacrifices all for love; this time, however, Von Trier throws in half-a-dozen songs, leaves out the pseudo-religious blather, renders the plot and characters deliberately unconvincing, and casts a non-actress in the very demanding lead role. I don't mean this as a putdown of Bjork, whose uninhibited emoting makes it hard to be sure at any moment whether she's good or terrible - that is, whether you should be cringing on behalf of the character or the performer. The charisma she possesses as a singer is hidden here behind a pair of heavy, clownish glasses, a script that paints her as borderline retarded, and a gawky, asexual persona; she comes into her own mainly during the musical numbers, which are shot like cheap video clips and tend to drift away from the rest of the film (Bjork's contemporary-sounding tunes have nothing to do with Selma's stated fondness for Fred Astaire). It's impossible to say whether this is a 'good' film (or video, or whatever) but with its combination of real and feigned naivety, nostalgia for lost innocence and vicious 'punk' nihilism, it's fascinating enough to trouble you for weeks after you've seen it. Recommended to those with strong stomachs."
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare

DIRECTOR: Lars von Trier

PRODUCER: Vibeke Windelov

SCRIPT: Lars von Trier


EDITOR: François Gédigier, Molly Marlene Stensgård

MUSIC: Björk


RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2000


VIDEO RELEASE: June 13, 2001

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