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Selma Yeskova (Björk) is a Czech immigrant and single mother working in a factory in small town America. Her salvation is her passion for the classic all-singing, all-dancing Hollywood musicals. But Selma has a secret: she is going blind and her 10-year-old son Gene will suffer the same fate unless she can save enough money for an operation. Working two jobs and the night shift, Selma is close to her target amount. But when her desperate neighbour Bill (David Morse) falsely accuses her of theft, all her plans begin to unravel.

It was easy to miss Dancer in the Dark during its belated and all-to-brief theatrical release. If you didn’t catch Lars von Trier’s extraordinary musical on the big screen, beg, steal or borrow a copy of the new DVD release as soon as you can. Honoured with the Palme d’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, Dancer in the Dark is an extraordinary and original piece of filmmaking.

With her Coke-bottle glasses and yelping voice, Björk is astonishing both as the soundtrack composer (I’ve Seen It All was nominated for a best song Oscar) and lead actress (she also took top honours at Cannes). The role of Selma is a schizophrenic one that by all accounts affected the first-time actress a little too deeply. Downcast and nervous one moment, Selma’s spirit takes flight when she hears music and she ventures into a fantasy world where she is the star of her own musical. The sudden change of character is made real by Björk’s confident and distinctive singing voice and a glowing optimism that seems to radiate from her every pore.

Selma is a daydreamer who always leaves her beloved musicals before the last song so they can go on forever in her mind. “In a musical nothing dreadful ever happens,” she says, explaining her passion. Not so in Lars von Triers musical. In an interview, one of the many fine special features included on the DVD release, the director outlines how he approached making Dancer as a “dangerous” musical, one that would make the viewer cry. Hollywood musicals are like operettas, the soft-spoken Dane explains. Dancer in the Dark was designed as an opera, full of melodrama and tragedy.

Von Trier is an unprepossessing speaker, but what he has to say is fascinating. And brutally honest. The audio commentary (it’s in Danish, but you can switch on English subtitles and read while you watch and listen to the movie) is alarmingly frank. Von Trier is relentlessly self-critical, castigating himself constantly for poor direction and decision making. Nor does he pull punches when talking about his star. After a whirlwind professional romance, Björk and von Trier had a well-publicised falling out during the making of the movie. Von Trier’s comments about Björk’s intransigent behaviour are as stinging as his own self-flagellation.

The other special features are also worthy of note. Rather than the potted filmography of most talent profiles, the biography of von Trier is 17, densely-packed screens of text and contains interactive links to trailers for several of his previous films. The hour-long making-of documentary, Von Trier’s 100 Eyes, shows how the crew coped when Björk walked out in the middle of shooting, none of them sure if she would ever return. The doco descends into drama as von Trier takes to Valium and muses on the psychological complexes that hinder him when directing women.

The 100 Eyes of the title refer to the number of cameras von Trier used to capture the action. While most of the footage is austere and handheld (with von Trier himself doing the holding), the song and dance routines were captured in whole takes using one hundred digital cameras simultaneously. The randomly placed lenses caught the performances from their fixed position and von Trier edited together the best shots (“gifts” he calls them) that were obtained. It is absorbing to watch von Trier at work, whether improvising with his cast, beavering away in the editing suite or strapping himself to the side of a truck, camera in hand, to shoot close-ups of the driver. But most revealing of all is his response to winning the Palme D’Or for Dancer in the Dark: one of complete and utter fear about what to do next.
Stuart Whitmore

Published August 23, 2001

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


(Denmark / Germany / Netherlands / USA / UK / France / Sweden / Finland / Iceland / Norway)

CAST: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Jean-Marc Barr, Joel Grey

DIRECTOR: Lars von Trier

RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: July 4, 2001

Widescreen feature presentation; Interview with Lars von Trier’ Theatrical trailer
Von Treir’s 100 Eyes – a documentary on the making of the film; Lars von Trier biography; Scene and dance selection; Audio commentary (director and sound designer); Theatrical trailers for von Treir’s films Europa, Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and Riget; Production stills; Sound: English 5.1; Subtitles: English, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish

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