A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits the town, she finds out that their support has a price. Yet her dangerous secret is never far away.
1964 in small town Washington state. Selma Jezková, a Czechoslovakian immigrant, and her preteen son Gene live in a rented trailer owned by and on the property of married Bill and Linda Houston, he the town sheriff. Beyond Bill and Linda, Selma has a small group of friends who look out for her, including her primary confidante, Kathy, with who she works, and Jeff who wants to be her boyfriend. Jeff regularly waits outside Selma's workplace long before the end of her shift to drive her home, despite she always refusing in not wanting to lead him on. Her primary job is working on the Anderson Tool factory assembly line, but she does whatever she can to earn money. What only Kathy knows among Selma's friends is that she is slowly going blind, her medical condition being genetic. Selma is barely able to see, just enough to do her job. Her primary reason for moving to the US and for working all the time is to earn enough money for an operation for Gene when he turns thirteen, he who ...Written by
The film originally contained a song entitled "141 Steps"; however, after the Cannes premiere, director Lars von Trier decided to shorten it, and the song was subsequently reworked and retitled "107 Steps." See more »
After seeing Melancholia and Antichrist, and after reading lots of stuff about Lars von Trier and his movies, I thought I understood what kind of director he is. When I started watching his filmography, I was expecting everything, really, because I know people who've seen a lot of his movies and they were always telling me that his films are good, but extremely tough to watch. Especially Dancer in the Dark, a friend of mine said. So when I started watching it, I found out I was unprepared.
Dancer in the Dark is a movie about Selma Jezkova (Björk), a factory worker from the '60s, who is slowly going blind. She has a genetic disease that she knows her 12-year old son will inherit, therefore she is saving up money so he can get an operation when he turns 13. She's extremely poor, she lives in a trailer she's renting from the town's policeman, Bill Houston (David Morse), who lives with his wife near Selma's trailer, and who is helping her with the money. Her only friends, Kathy (Catherine Deneuve) and Jeff (Peter Stormare) help her as well in her everyday-life routine. Everything starts to go downhill when the policeman doesn't have any more money to give her and, taking advantage of the fact that she's going completely blind, steals all the money that she saved up for her son's operation. That's when Selma starts to 'dance in the dark', both literally and metaphorically.
Dancer in the Dark is the third film in the so-called "Golden Heart trilogy" by Lars von Trier. I don't really know why the trilogy's called like that, but I can assume it's because the main character is a pure-hearted person, whose life gets destroyed by the people that surround him (in this case – her) and by the situations he finds himself in. At least, that's Selma's story. I think von Trier's goal here was to rip your heart out of your chest, squeeze it and make it explode. He took something so pure, innocent and beautiful as Selma, and made her suffer as much as he could. And all that you can do, as a viewer, is just watch the main character perish. I suffered along with the character, and it was really difficult to watch. I usually spontaneously empathise with the character, I try to experience what they're experiencing – and that surely didn't help. At the end of the movie, I was a train wreck, crying my eyes out. But maybe, the movie's problem is just in this.
The movie wasn't particularly well-received, especially by the critics, and I see why people don't like it. It's not a pleasant movie to watch; everything in it makes you feel uncomfortable, and especially mainstream audiences feel uncomfortable, since the movie is so unconventional. It's filmed by following almost all of the Dogme 95 rules: it uses hand-held digital cameras to create a documentary-style look, with no background music. I didn't mind those characteristics, I actually loved them. What I think we all really agree on is that the real eye-candy of the movie is Björk. Her performance was outworldly, something unique in the history of cinema. Many said that Björk was so convincing that she became the character herself – and I agree with them. That wasn't acting, as her co-star Catherine Deneuve said: that was feeling. And what's even better – Björk was able to use her main talent, music, in the movie as well: Selma is a great musical fan, and she would often daydream, creating musical numbers in her head. In the movie, we would see what Selma imagined. The colors would brighten (this time using static cameras to film), Selma would be singing along with whoever surrounded her, and everything would be cheerful. The result of the combination of Björk's phenomenal voice and incredible acting performance was astonishing.
But, as I was saying before, maybe the problem with the movie is that von Trier was using this 'destroying something beautiful' to get to the viewers. One could call it 'cheap storytelling', but isn't that the most effective way to get to someone's heart and then break it? Yes, it actually is. So, no, von Trier's masterplan here wasn't genius – he's just doing what he does best. But I don't really care. I don't think it's actually that easy to make someone feel such strong emotions. You've got to choose the right story, with the right characters (main and supporting), the right twists, the right directing, the right screenplay, the right tone and the right actors. Choosing Björk as the main character was a risk, since that was her first acting job. But her sweet, innocent appearance had an even greater effect on the whole movie experience, because it enhanced the beauty that was getting destroyed. I'm certain that the movie wouldn't have been this good without Björk's acting and music.
So, personally, I loved the movie. I'm all for the emotions, and this one struck me good. But I loved everything about it: its uniqueness in the way it's filmed and directed, the dark but sometimes cheerful tone, the characters and the actors, etc. The above mentioned problem that many had with the movie wasn't a problem for me at all. Maybe it was too raw and harsh, but Lars von Trier really got everything right, in my eyes. Some may call it tedious and overly-melodramatic, but I think it was all done on purpose. The initial slow pace created the right situations and the right tone, and the twists that happened later in the movie felt earned and right-timed. It all felt very real as well. When the final credits started running, and my tears started flowing like crazy, my first thought was "F**k you, Lars". But then, it turned into a "thank you", because, as a critic said, ultimately, it's a tribute to the power of cinema.
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