Dancer in the Dark (2000) is nothing if not divisive, which probably pleased bad boy auteur Lars von Trier. Boldly merging two florid genres, the melodrama and the musical, with a handheld video, monophonic style (in the dramatic scenes) that is stridently drab, Dancer's ultra-soap opera, movie-literate plot and kaleidoscopically avant-garde musical interludes reveal the lie of musical fantasy while creating a sensory experience that is as powerful as it is manipulative. Waifish Selma is so tortured by her existence that she becomes a maddening confirmation of von Trier's serious issues regarding women, but Björk's ethereal, deeply felt performance infuses her victim-hood with humanity. That she comes colorfully alive in eccentric, Björk-composed musical dreams that defy death and turn her ugly life into syncopated rhythm sections comes as no surprise according to the musical's utopian legacy, yet von Trier's multi-camera, quick-cut approach constrains the choreography to emotionally true (and frustrating) effect. The shift to stereo surround sound and cinematographer Robby Müller's saturated color is exhilarating, especially in "I've Seen It All" and "Cvalda," but Selma can never sing and dance away her troubles. Indeed, von Trier tips his hand immediately when the haunting overture gives away to a clumsy production of The Sound of Music. Though the prolonged finale is von Trier at his most sadistic, Selma's bluntly shot fate is also undeniably heartbreaking. A controversial Palme D'Or winner that garnered as many brickbats as kudos, Dancer in the Dark is clearly not for all tastes, but its audacity alone is something to behold.
by Lucia Bozzola review