Dancer in the Dark
directed by Lars von Trier
(Fine Line, 2000)

Dancer in the Dark is a difficult film. If it had been made by another artist it would still be a difficult film, but director Lars von Trier seems to go out of his way to raise the heartbreak inherent in the plot to an almost incomprehensible level. It is the story of an immigrant factory worker (played by the singer Bjork) in mid-1960s America who is going blind. Before she completely loses her sight she is trying to save enough money to save her 12-year-old son from the same fate.

The performances in this film are very moving. Bjork especially does a beautiful job playing a woman with only one wish in life, a woman who will do anything to help her child no matter the consequences to herself. Catherine Deneuve is superb as her best friend and main source of emotional support, playing a reserved woman who has come to deeply love, and worry for, her friend. Bjork also composed all of the music for the film; it has no background music, only the oddly moving songs that accompany the equally odd dance numbers.

I do not know the name of the filming process the von Trier used, but it reminded me of old home movies -- jerky and grainy with bright colors. The way the film looks, coupled with the lack of the usual background music set me on edge from the beginning. As the story progressed I began to wish that it would end, but it didn't and every time I wished for the end von Trier threw something else painful at me. It was as if he was saying "Let's see just how much they can take" and I found that I wanted so badly to leave the theatre but couldn't because while he was making me uncomfortable he was also making me care about these people he had created. At the end I was left wondering how anyone could make such a beautiful piece of art that HURT so much and just how much talent it took to do so.

[ by Ziya Reynolds ]