About halfway through Dancer in the Dark, I started
feeling nauseous. I was thinking about whether it was something I ate for
lunch when three words entered my mind, Blair
Witch Project. Don't believe the ads. The sequel to The
Blair Witch Project is not The
Book of Shadows. It is Dancer in the Dark. This film is shot
in extreme Dogma style with handheld
cameras which are jerking back and forth throughout the movie. There's
no reason for this since unlike Blair Witch, they are being held by cameramen.
The director is Lars von Trier best known for Breaking
The Waves. The bizarre nature of this film extends to the cast
which like a Sergio Leone
western includes all sorts of actors from different countries thrown
together without much explanation. Dancer in the Dark includes an
Icelandic pop star (Bjork), a French Cultural Icon (Catherine Deneuve),
and two journeymen actors (David Morse and Peter Stormare). Morse was last
seen as a prison guard in The
Green Mile and is still fondly remembered from St.
Elsewhere. Stormare is Swedish but is best known to North American
audiences as the wood-chipping-hitman partner of Steve Buscemi in Fargo.
Other familiar faces include Zeljko Ivanek best known as the District Attorney
on Homicide, Life on the Street
who also plays a District Attorney here, wearing, I swear, the same suit
he wore in Homicide. Joel Grey, yes, the Joel Grey, appears as the
movie idol of Bjork. The plot seems simple enough. A woman from Czechoslovakia
(Bjork) moves to America with her young son and works in a factory. She
is slowly going blind and her son has the same affliction so she is saving
money to pay for an operation to save his sight. She loves movie
musicals and daydreams about her life as if she were in one herself.
We see these fantasies on screen as song and dance numbers. Bjork
is excellent in this role which she claims will be her only acting role
ever. She radiates a puckish charm throughout the movie. Catherine Deneuve,
besides seeming very out of place as a beautiful French woman working in
an American factory, is also good as Bjork's best friend. Joel Grey
shows he is still spry as he dances in one of the musical fantasies.
I quite enjoyed the first half of Dancer in the Dark but in the
second half, seasickness and depression took over and I found it hard to
enjoy. The lives of Bjork and those around her enter a death spiral
and the end of the movie is pretty distressing. It is also infuriating
because the plot doesn't make that much sense. The musical scenes work
pretty well, presented as they are, as Bjork's daydreams. She wrote the
music which arises from day-to-day noises around her. Dancer in
the Dark won the Palm
d'Or at Cannes this year. Apparently, some people were less susceptible
to motion sickness than me and also liked it a lot more.