We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.
Dancer in the Dark, 2000
Palme d’Or – Lars von Trier
Prix d’interprétation féminine – Bjork
My feelings on Lars von Trier are very lukewarm to say the least. His newer features haven’t been for me, really, with The House That Jack Built and Nymphomaniac being among my least favorites in their respective years.
And while I don’t hold an appreciation for his works anymore, I still hold a place in my heart for his earlier features. Breaking The Waves, Europa, Dogville, The Kingdom, and most prominently Dancer In The Dark rank among some of the best films of our time. With Dancer In The Dark, Lars von Trier not only managed to turn open a new page of his own filmography, but a new page of experimental cinema as well.
Serving as an almost anti-musical, the film follows Selma, played by the lovely Björk, a Czech immigrant that’s nearly blind. If she does not drum up money for an expensive operation, her son will suffer from the same genetic disorder. Selma, through her love of musicals, attempts to cope through the horror of the situation.
When compared to other musicals, the film certainly rejects traditional functions of others in the genre. A muted color palette, a handheld camera guiding the cinematography, and using everyday sounds as beats for the music rather than spontaneous and show stopping music, it’s certainly a take on musicals rarely explored before.
“Dancer In The Dark’s divisive cinematography provides a means for us to get to know and understand the character of Selma better.”
Björk’s performances carries a lot of weight, making the eventual events of the film all the more devastating. The actual sequence of events is nothing short of captivating, these slow and beautiful melodies bringing us through this dark, terrifying world. Each song beautifully displays Selma’s hopeful, yet misplaced, nature. A beautifully destructive feat.
Another aspect, probably the most divisive, of this is the visual presentation. The film is ugly. Extremely ugly. The handheld, almost amateurish feel of it is certainly to turn many people off. Especially those not familiarized with anything but mainstream film. But for those who are willing to stick with it, Dancer In The Dark’s divisive cinematography provides a means for us to get to know and understand the character of Selma better.
The amateur feel grounds the film in a reality that Selma so desperately wants to escape from. That she wants her child to escape from. And while Selma’s fleeting songs provide an escape for the audience, and for her, the cinematography time and time again reminds us that it isn’t real. And that Selma is hoping for a future in which she will never achieve. The tragedy of this is unavoidable, and strikes a certain chord, for me and for many others as well.
And that’s where Dancer In The Dark hits its peak. Despite never being a film to make you cry, it is certainly emotional. Selma’s tragedies and feelings and ups and downs are perfectly, perfectly displayed in every single shot.
“Dancer In The Dark is Lars von Trier’s masterpiece.”
And the ending, which is one of the most devastating, sickly fulfilling of recent times. It’s a perfectly encapsulating culmination of everything von Trier has built up. The music, the realism, the hope, and the tragedy all collide into one. One beautifully, sickening monster.
Dancer In The Dark is Lars von Trier’s masterpiece. With it he ended not only his Breaking The Waves era. It also serves as a symbolic end to the dogme era, with directors from which having moved on to better things. Harmony Korine went on to make films like Spring Breakers. Vinterberg made films like The Hunt. And von Trier made films like Melancholia.
It’s the perfect end to the perfect era, really. It does what every Dogme film has done before, experimented with the craft, deconstructed genres, and launched careers, despite not being a Dogme film itself. In any case, Dancer In The Dark stands the test of time as one of the most awakening and necessary films ever made.
“It’s just so quiet here.”