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Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark

In his own unique style, director Lars von Trier (Breaking The Waves) gives us a new twist on an old art form, the Hollywood musical, in his film, Dancer in the Dark.


Czech immigrant and single mom Selma Jezkova (Bjork) escapes from her humdrum world by fantasizing her life as a splashy Hollywood musical. She is a hardworking, single parent who spends her days at her boring factory job and her nights rehearsing for an amateur production of The Sound of Music. She is also slowly going blind thanks to a hereditary disease and is struggling to save enough money for an operation for her son, who is heading towards the same fate.

Selma, though, is not alone in her struggles. Her best friend Kathy (Catherine Deneuve) alternately watches over her -- and is exasperated by what she sees. Also, a co-worker (Peter Stormare) wants to court her, but she politely refuses his advances.

To make matters worse, Selma's landlord and neighbor (David Morse) confides his financial problems to her, then turns around later to falsely accuse Selma of stealing from him, spinning her world out of control. Her reactions set in motion a chain of events that ends in tragedy.

Bjork (who also composed the musical score) starts off awkwardly but gradually warms into the role of Selma, ultimately offering a fine portrait of a woman driven by her love for her child. As expected, Bjork seems more at home in the musical numbers. The ageless Deneuve lends terrific support as Selma's best friend and her participation recalls her work in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. Morse makes for a believable heavy. There's also fine support from Stormare, Jean-Marc Barr (''Breaking the Waves'') as a factory foreman, Joel Grey as a now-retired song and dance man and Cara Seymour as Morse's extravagant wife.


Director Lars von Trier attempts to graft the conventions of classic Hollywood movie musicals onto a very melodramatic storyline. His camerawork is spectacular, shifting from a washed out everyday world into a Technicolor one for the musical sequences. Von Trier, who also wrote the film and served as camera operator, is unafraid to zoom in for extreme close-ups, capturing the intimacy of the story. Although his merging of genres isn't exactly successful (the pedestrian lyrics to Bjork's soaring score also don't help), the director does get excellent performances from his cast. As with all of his films, though, a little more judicious editing would not have hurt, but the musical numbers, staged by Vince Paterson (best-known for choreographing music videos), make up for the lulls.

At two hours and twenty minutes, Dancer in the Dark runs a bit too long, but it is impressive as an attempt to rejuvenate the movie musical and tell a compelling story at the same time.


Cast: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, and Peter Stormare.

Written and directed by Lars von Trier. Produced by Viebeke Windelov. Released by Fine Line Features.