Dancer in the Dark
Dancer in the Dark (Danish: Danser i mørket) is a 2000 musical melodrama film directed by Lars von Trier. It stars Icelandic musician Björk as a daydreaming immigrant factory worker who suffers from a degenerative eye condition and is saving up to pay for an operation to prevent her young son from suffering the same fate. Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Cara Seymour, Peter Stormare, Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Joel Grey also star.
|Dancer in the Dark|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lars von Trier|
|Written by||Lars von Trier|
|Distributed by||Fine Line Features|
(120 million kr)
|Box office||$45.6 million|
(416 million kr)
The soundtrack for the film, released as the album Selmasongs, was written mainly by Björk, but a number of songs featured contributions from Mark Bell and the lyrics were by von Trier and Sjón. Three songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music were also used in the film.
This is the third film in von Trier's "Golden Heart Trilogy"; the other two films are Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998). The film was an international co-production among companies based in thirteen countries and regions: Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. It was shot with a handheld camera, and was somewhat inspired by a Dogme 95 look.
Dancer in the Dark premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival to standing ovations and controversy, but was nonetheless awarded the Palme d'Or, along with the Best Actress award for Björk. The song "I've Seen It All", with Thom Yorke, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song but lost to "Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan from Wonder Boys. The film continues to polarize critics, being seen by some as melodramatic and by others as one of the greatest films of all time.
In Washington state in 1964, Selma Ježková, a Czech immigrant has moved to the United States with her son, Gene Ježek. They live a life of poverty as Selma works at a factory with her good friend Kathy, whom she nicknames Cvalda. She rents a trailer home on the property of town policeman Bill Houston and his wife Linda. She is also pursued by the shy but persistent Jeff, who also works at the factory.
Selma has a degenerative eye condition and is losing her vision. She has been saving up to pay for an operation which will prevent her young son from losing his vision. She also takes part in rehearsals for a production of The Sound of Music and accompanies Kathy to the local cinema where together they watch fabulous Hollywood musicals, as Kathy describes them to her. Selma, going blind, memorizes the letters on an eye exam in order to keep her job at the factory. To prevent him from worrying, Selma keeps her son’s impending blindness a secret and instead tells him the money she’s saving for the operation is being sent to her father in Czechoslovakia.
In her day-to-day life, Selma slips into daydreams and fantasizes about her life as a musical.(“Cvalda”). Selma’s vision gradually worsens, to the point that she nearly gets hit by a car and then has to walk on the train tracks to find her way home.
Jeff soon figures out that Selma is going blind and she imagines herself in yet another musical number, explaining that she’s accepted her fate (“I’ve Seen it All”).
That night, Bill reveals to Selma that his materialistic wife Linda spends more than his salary, and the bank is going to take his house. To comfort Bill, Selma reveals that she’s going blind, hoping that together they can keep each other's secret. Bill hides in the corner of Selma's home, knowing she can't see him, and watches as she puts some money in her kitchen tin.
Selma works an extra shift at the factory, asking if it’s “always been so dark in here” and, due to being nearly blind, accidentally breaks a machine and is fired from her job.
When she comes home to put her final wages away she finds the tin is empty; she goes next door to report the theft to Bill and Linda, only to hear Linda discussing how Bill has brought home their safe deposit box to count their savings.
Knowing that Bill was broke and that the money he is counting must be hers, she confronts him and attempts to take the money back. He draws a gun on her, and in a struggle he is wounded. Linda runs off to tell the police at Bill's command. Bill then begs Selma to take his life, telling her that this will be the only way she will ever reclaim the money that he stole from her.
Selma shoots at him several times, but due to her blindness manages to only maim Bill further. In the end, she performs a coup de grâce by repeatedly hitting him in the face with the safe deposit box. Selma slips into a trance and imagines that Bill's corpse stands up and slow dances with her, urging her to run to freedom (“Scatterheart”). She does, and takes the money to the Institute for the Blind to pay for her son's operation before the police can take it from her.
Selma then leaves for rehearsal, where she requests a smaller part as she can no longer see her way around the stage. The director gladly obliges, and stays to talk to her (“In the Musicals”). It is then revealed that he knows what she’s done and calls the police. She is arrested and put on trial.
It is here that she is pegged as a Communist sympathizer and is charged with murder. Although she tells as much truth about the situation as she can, she refuses to reveal Bill's secret, saying that she had promised not to.
Her claim that the reason she didn't have any money was because she had been sending it to her father in Czechoslovakia is proven false, she is convicted and given the death penalty (“In the Musicals- Reprise”). Kathy and Jeff eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together and get back Selma's money, using it instead to pay for a trial lawyer who can free her.
Selma becomes furious and refuses the lawyer, opting to face the death penalty rather than let her son go blind. Kathy relents and instead uses the money to pay for the operation. Selma, finally realizing that this means she’s about to die, begins to panic. Brenda, a sympathetic guard, helps calm Selma down and walks with her to the gallows (“107 Steps).
Selma becomes terrified when the hood is placed over her face, and falls to the ground sobbing. She is strapped to a collapse board and screams for her son. Kathy rushes in and informs her that the operation was a success and that Gene will not go blind after all. Relieved, Selma sings on the gallows with no musical accompaniment (“Second to Last Song”). The trapdoor falls and Selma dies before she can finish the song. Two guards draw the curtain separating the viewing area from the gallows closed, and the scene fades into the credits.
- Björk as Selma Ježková
- Catherine Deneuve as Kathy (Cvalda)
- David Morse as Bill Houston
- Peter Stormare as Jeff
- Jean-Marc Barr as Norman
- Joel Grey as Oldřich Nový
- Cara Seymour as Linda Houston
- Siobhan Fallon as Brenda
- Vladica Kostic as Gene Ježek
- Vincent Paterson as Samuel
- Željko Ivanek as District attorney
- Udo Kier as Dr. Pokorný
- Jens Albinus as Morty
- Reathel Bean as Judge
- Michael Flessas as Angry man
- Mette Berggreen as Receptionist
- Lars Michael Dinesen as Defense attorney
- Katrine Falkenberg as Suzan
- Stellan Skarsgård as the doctor
Much of the film has a similar look to von Trier's earlier Dogme 95-influenced films: it is filmed on low-end, hand-held digital cameras to create a documentary-style appearance. It is not a true Dogme 95 film, however, because the Dogme rules stipulate that violence, non-diegetic music, and period pieces are not permitted. Trier differentiates the musical sequences from the rest of the film by using static cameras and by brightening the colours.
Actress Björk, who is known primarily as a contemporary composer, had rarely acted before, and has described the process of making this film as so emotionally taxing that she would not act in any film ever again (although in 2005, she appeared in Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9). Deneuve and others have described her performance as feeling rather than acting. Björk has said that it is a misunderstanding that she was put off acting by this film; rather, she never wanted to act but made an exception for Lars von Trier.
The musical sequences were filmed simultaneously with over 100 digital cameras so that multiple angles of the performance could be captured and cut together later, thus shortening the filming schedule.
A Danish MY class locomotive (owned by Swedish train operator TÅGAB) was painted in the American Great Northern scheme for the movie, and not repainted afterward. A T43 class locomotive was repainted too, though never used in the film.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2018)
- Original music: Björk
- Singers: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, Siobhan Fallon, David Morse, Cara Seymour, Edward Ross (for Vladica Kostic), Joel Grey, Peter Stormare (In the soundtrack Selmasongs, Thom Yorke sings instead of Stormare)
- Lyrics: Björk, Lars von Trier and Sjón
- Non-original music: Richard Rodgers (from The Sound of Music)
- Non-original lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II (from The Sound of Music)
- Choreographer: Vincent Paterson
it was extremely clear to me when i walked into the actresses profession that my humiliation and role as a lesser sexually harassed being was the norm and set in stone with the director and a staff of dozens who enabled it and encouraged it. i became aware of that it is a universal thing that a director can touch and harass his actresses at will and the institution of film allows it. When i turned the director down repeatedly he sulked and punished me and created for his team an impressive net of illusion where i was framed as the difficult one. ...
and in my opinion he had a more fair and meaningful relationship with his actresses after my confrontation so there is hope. let's hope this statement supports the actresses and actors all over. let's stop this. there is a wave of change in the world."
The Los Angeles Times found evidence identifying him as Lars von Trier. Von Trier has rejected Björk's allegation that he sexually harassed her during the making of the film Dancer in the Dark, and said "That was not the case. But that we were definitely not friends, that’s a fact," to Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in its online edition. Peter Aalbaek Jensen, the producer of Dancer in the Dark, told Jyllands-Posten that "As far as I remember we [Lars von Trier and I] were the victims. That woman was stronger than both Lars von Trier and me and our company put together. She dictated everything and was about to close a movie of 100m kroner [$16m]." After von Trier's statement, Björk explained the details about this incident, saying:
in the spirit of #metoo i would like to lend women around the world a hand with a more detailed description of my experience with a danish director . it feels extremely difficult to come out with something of this nature into the public , especially when immediately ridiculed by offenders . i fully sympathise with everyone who hesitates , even for years . but i feel it is the right time especially now when it could make a change . here comes a list of the encounters that i think count as sexual harassment :
1 after each take the director ran up to me and wrapped his arms around me for a long time in front of all crew or alone and stroked me sometimes for minutes against my wishes
2 when after 2 months of this i said he had to stop the touching , he exploded and broke a chair in front of everyone on set . like someone who has always been allowed to fondle his actresses . then we all got sent home .
3 during the whole filming process there were constant awkward paralysing unwanted whispered sexual offers from him with graphic descriptions , sometimes with his wife standing next to us .
4 while filming in sweden , he threatened to climb from his room´s balcony over to mine in the middle of the night with a clear sexual intention , while his wife was in the room next door . i escaped to my friends room . this was what finally woke me up to the severity of all this and made me stand my ground
5 fabricated stories in the press about me being difficult by his producer . this matches beautifully the weinstein methods and bullying . i have never eaten a shirt . not sure that is even possible .
6 i didnt comply or agree on being sexually harassed . that was then portrayed as me being difficult . if being difficult is standing up to being treated like that , i´ll own it .
let´s break this curse
Björk's manager, Derek Birkett, has also accused von Trier's actions in the past, stating:
I have worked with Björk for over 30 years and have never made a single statement or interview regarding our work together. This time is different.
I have read the lies written by Lars and his producer Peter about Björk – and feel compelled to speak out and put the record straight. Over the last 30 years the Dancer in the Dark project is the one and only time she has fallen out with a collaborator. This was a result of the directors ongoing, disrespectful verbal and physical abuse which continued after both Björk and myself demanded that he stop behaving this way. Björk completed the film out of respect for the cast and everyone involved. I feel compelled to publicly speak out in fierce support of Björk in regards to her terrible experiences working with Lars Von Trier, and I back what she has said 110%.
Reaction to Dancer in the Dark was polarized. For example, on The Movie Show, Margaret Pomeranz gave it five stars while David Stratton gave it a zero, a score shared only by Geoffrey Wright's Romper Stomper (1992). Stratton later described it as his "favourite horror film". Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said it was "one of the worst films, one of the worst artworks and perhaps one of the worst things in the history of the world." The response is reflected in the film's official website, which posts both positive and negative reviews on its main page. The diverse reviews result in an overall 68% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.71/10, based on 117 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "Dancer in Dark can be grim, dull, and difficult to watch, but even so, it has a powerful and moving performance from Björk and is something quite new and visionary." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film was praised for its stylistic innovations. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated: "It smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies. It returns to the wellsprings. It is a bold, reckless gesture." Edward Guthmann from the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "It's great to see a movie so courageous and affecting, so committed to its own differentness." However, criticism was directed at its storyline. Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post described the film as "meretricious fakery" and called it "so unrelenting in its manipulative sentimentality that, if it had been made by an American and shot in a more conventional manner, it would be seen as a bad joke."
In 2016, David Ehrlich ranked Dancer in the Dark as one of the best films of the 21st century, hailing Björk's performance as the "single greatest feat of film acting" since 2000. Björk's performance is also ranked in the "25 Best Performances Not Nominated for an Oscar of the 21st Century" list.
Dancer in the Dark premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the Palme d'Or, along with the Best Actress award for Björk. The song "I've Seen It All" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, at the performance of which Björk wore her famous swan dress.
Sight & Sound magazine conducts a poll every ten years of the world's finest film directors to find out the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. This poll has been going since 1952, and has become the most recognised poll of its kind in the world. In 2012, Cyrus Frisch was one of the four directors who voted for Dancer in the Dark. Frisch commented: "A superbly imaginative film that leaves conformity in shambles." Director Oliver Schmitz also lauded the work as "relentless, claustrophobic, the best movie about capital punishment as far as I’m concerned".
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Academy Awards||25 March 2001||Best Original Song||"I've Seen It All", by Björk, Lars von Trier, and Sjón Sigurdsson||Nominated|||
|Bodil Awards||2001||Best Actress||Björk||Won|||
|Cannes Film Festival||May 2000||Palme d'Or||Lars von Trier||Won|||
|César Awards||24 February 2001||Best Foreign Film||Lars von Trier||Nominated|||
|European Film Awards||2 December 2000||Best Film||Lars von Trier||Won|||
|Best Director – People's Choice||Lars von Trier||Won|
|Best Actress – People's Choice||Björk||Won|
|Independent Spirit Awards||March 2001||Best Foreign Film||Lars von Trier||Won|||
|Golden Globes||21 January 2001||Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama||Björk||Nominated|||
|Best Original Song||"I've Seen It All", by Björk, Lars von Trier, and Sjón Sigurdsson||Nominated|
|Goya Awards||2001||Best European Film||Lars von Trier||Won|||
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Right now, I feel very strong about focusing on music
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Xan Brooks leads a critics' roundtable on the highs and lows, the sublime to the ridiculous at the 2009 Cannes film festival, before sailing into the sunset. See video at 8:20.
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Some reasonable people will admire Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark," and others will despise it. An excellent case can be made for both positions.
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Singer Bjork amazing in von Trier's tragedy
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Despite 2 Good Performances, 'Dancer' Is Just Fakery With An Anti-american Drum To Beat
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