Dancer in the Dark
Dancer in the Dark (Danish: Danser i mørket) is a 2000 musical melodrama film written and directed by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. It stars Icelandic musician Björk as a factory worker who suffers from a degenerative eye condition and is saving 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. 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.
|Dancer in the Dark|
|Danish: Danser i mørket|
|Directed by||Lars von Trier|
|Written by||Lars von Trier|
|Distributed by||Angel Films (Denmark)|
Les films du losange (France)
Constantin Film (Germany)
Istituto Luce (Italy)
Sandrew Metronome (Sweden)
(120 million kr)
|Box office||$45.6 million|
(416 million kr)
Dancer in the Dark is the third film in von Trier's "Golden Heart Trilogy", following Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998). It was an international co-production among companies based in thirteen European and North American countries and regions. It was shot with a handheld camera, and 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 polarized critics, with some deriding it as melodramatic and others lauding it as highly moving and innovative. It appeared on multiple lists of the best films of the 21st century and the best films of all time.
In Washington state in 1964, Selma Ježková, a Czech immigrant, has moved to the United States with her 12 year-old 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 Hollywood musicals, as Kathy describes them to her.
In her day-to-day life, Selma slips into daydreams, imagining that she's in a musical. Jeff and Kathy begin to realize that Selma's vision is worse than they thought, and she's been cheating at her vision tests by memorizing the charts in order to keep her job at the factory. Bill reveals to Selma that his materialistic wife spends more than his salary, and the bank is going to take his house. He tells her he planned to shoot himself, but couldn't bring himself to do it. To comfort Bill, Selma reveals that she's going blind, hoping that together they can keep each other's secret. Bill pretends to leave Selma's trailer but stays, knowing she can't see him, and watches her hide her money in a tin.
The next day, after accidentally breaking a machine at the factory, Selma is fired from her job. When she comes home to put her money in the tin, she discovers it's empty. Selma realizes that Bill stole it and goes to his house to confront him. Linda accuses Selma of trying to seduce her husband, explaining that Bill told her Selma wanted him for his money. Not wanting to expose Bill's secret that she promised not to tell, Selma ignores Linda and goes upstairs to confront Bill about the theft. He pulls a gun on her, and they fight over the money.
Selma accidentally shoots Bill, who yells for Linda and tells her that Selma tried to rob him. Linda runs off to tell the police at Bill's command. Bill then begs Selma to kill him, telling her that this will be the only way she will ever reclaim the money that he stole from her. Selma shoots him several times, but due to her blindness manages to only maim Bill further. When the gun runs out of bullets, Selma beats him to death with the safe deposit box. Selma slips into a trance and imagines that Bill's corpse stands up and slow dances with her. Selma takes her money back and uses it to pay for Gene's operation.
Jeff, not knowing about the murder, takes Selma to rehearsal, where her director calls the police on her. In court, she is accused of being a Communist sympathizer and of pretending to be blind to exploit the American healthcare system. 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. When her claim that the reason she did not have any money was because she had been sending it to her father in Czechoslovakia is proven false, she is convicted of murder and given the death penalty. 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 refuses the lawyer, opting to face the death penalty rather than let her son go blind, but she is deeply distraught as she awaits her death. As Selma begins crying, Kathy runs in to tell her that the operation was successful and that Gene will see. Relieved, Selma sings the final song on the gallows with no musical accompaniment. The trap door opens and she is killed mid song.
- Björk as Selma Ježková
- Catherine Deneuve as Kathy (Cvalda)
- David Morse as Bill Houston
- Peter Stormare as Jeff
- Joel Grey as Oldřich Nový
- Cara Seymour as Linda Houston
- Vladica Kostic as Gene Ježek
- Jean-Marc Barr as Norman
- Vincent Paterson as Samuel
- Siobhan Fallon as Brenda
- 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 musician, had rarely acted before, and described the process of making this film as so emotionally taxing that she would not act in any film ever again (although she appeared in Matthew Barney's film installation Drawing Restraint 9 in 2005, and is set to appear in Robert Eggers' The Northman). Trier 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
In October 2017, Björk posted on her Facebook page that she had been sexually harassed by a "Danish film director she worked with". She commented:
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 Aalbæk 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
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%.
The Guardian later found that Jensen's studio, Zentropa, with which von Trier frequently collaborated with, had an endemic culture of sexual harassment. Jensen stepped down from CEO position of Zentropa as further harassment allegations came to light in 2017.
A Blu-ray version of the film has yet to be released in the United States. Shochiku released a Blu-ray of the film for the first time on December 21, 2012 in Japan. Although the disc is region free, with English Audio and subtitles, the only extras on the disc are a theatrical trailer. In Germany, Koch Media released the film on Blu-ray on August 14, 2014. Though it has extras and the correct color timing, the disc is Region B Locked.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Dancer in the Dark earned positive reviews from 69% of 121 critics, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The critics consensus on the website 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." According to Metacritic, which assigned the film a weighted average score of 61/100 based on 33 critic reviews, the film received "generally favorable reviews".
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 dubbed Dancer in the Dark the "most shallow and crudely manipulative" film of 2000, and in 2009 he described it as "one of the worst films, one of the worst artworks and perhaps one of the worst things in the history of the world".
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.
It grossed $45.6 million worldwide, including $4.2 million in the United States and Canada. It was number one at the Japanese box office for three weeks.
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" – Björk, Lars von Trier, Sjón||Nominated|
|Bodil Awards||2001||Best Danish Film||Lars von Trier||Nominated|||
|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" – Björk, Lars von Trier, Sjón||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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