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Dancer in the dark

Threat advisory: Elevated - Significant risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

Dancer in the dark is an emotionally gripping tale of Selma (Björk), a Czech immigrant and single mother working in a factory in rural USA.

Selma's salvation is her passion for music, specifically classic Hollywood musicals. The clanging and clattering of industrial machinery inspire her to imagine show-stopping numbers featuring her co-workers including her best friend and confidante, Kathy (Catherine Deneuve). But Selma harbours a sad secret. She is losing her eyesight due to a genetic disorder and her 10-year-old son Gene (Vladan Kostig) stands to suffer the same fate.

With a single-minded dedication, Selma sets out to earn the money necessary for her son to have a vision-saving operation. When a desperate neighbour threatens Selma's savings, he sets in motion a series of events that bring this emotional drama to its inspiring finale.

Theatrical propaganda posters

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Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film Denmark Danish musical mother son poverty factory train track murder Dogme

Persons of interest

  • Björk .... Selma Jezkova
  • Catherine Deneuve .... Kathy
  • David Morse .... Bill Houston
  • Peter Stormare .... Jeff
  • Joel Grey .... Oldrich Novy
  • Cara Seymour .... Linda Houston
  • Vladica Kostic .... Gene Jezkova
  • Jean-Marc Barr .... Norman
  • Vincent Paterson .... Samuel
  • Siobhan Fallon .... Brenda
  • Zeljko Ivanek .... District Attorney
  • Udo Kier .... Dr Porkorny
  • Jens Albinus .... Morty
  • Reathel Bean .... Judge
  • Lars Michael Dinesen .... Defense Attorney
  • Katrine Falkenberg .... Suzan
  • Michael Flessas .... Angry Man
  • John Randolph Jones .... Detective
  • Noah Lazarus .... Officer of the Court
  • Sheldon Litt .... Visitor
  • Andrew Lucre .... Clerk of Court
  • John Martinus .... Chairman
  • Luke Reilly .... New Defense Counsel
  • TJ Rizzo .... Boris
  • Lars von Trier .... Screenwriter
  • Lars von Trier .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Life's a bitch and then you die.

That's the lighter side of Dancer in the dark. On the darker side you have the third film of Lars' trilogy on women who struggle (Breaking the waves and The idiots being the first two), often to no end and often to the downfall of those around them. In this case no-one gets a happy ending because everyone loses what they most want.

Already you can tell that this film is not from Hollywood, can't you? You'll also see that it's not a soppy, clichéd tissue-puller when the hand-held cameras start moving around. It takes a lot of getting used to and at times it's downright artificial but it does keep you on your toes. As for the tissues, the ultimate scene will knock you for six.

Björk (pronounced "b'jerk" not "byork" according to my Finnish friend Matti) is very effective. You'd expect from her music that she's some Spacey chick who couldn't act to save her life but you'd be wrong. She lives and breathes Selma's anxiety and devotion to Gene. There's not a moment when she isn't thinking about some way to improve his life. Catherine's character is more reserved but she plays her with equal dedication. David, however, is the big surprise: he's such a nice-looking guy that he's always cast as the nice guy in Hollywood films. Lars plays off that and casts him as a nice guy who turns into a nasty guy, a really evil guy. Cool. David has lots of fun with it, too, in the actorly sense and really plays it for all it's worth.

An unceasing sense of doom pervades even the seemingly happiest scenes; genetic disorders will do that to you, giving everything a wonderful blackness that Hollywood cannot match. It stems from thousands of years of invasion, occupation, plague, starvation, inquisition and politicians. Europe is often seen as a "tired" continent because of the depth and unending tragedy of its history and it is this undercurrent that informs every moment in Dancer in the dark.

Lars is one of the founding members of Dogme 95, a Northern European radical cinematic group that espouses hard core reality over Hollywood glitz and glamour. It is surprising that he chose to make a musical because that genre is the antithesis of everything he stands for. That said, Lars still manages to maintain his avant garde asceticism. There are no studio sets: everything is shot on location. There are no beautiful camera movements, just hand-held digital cameras following the action (sometimes they are a little too hand held, if you get my drift). It gives the film a rough edge that doesn't detract from the story, other than making it harder to watch, but it doesn't add anything to it either. In this case I would advise that if one is going to sell one's soul to the devil one might as well get a the best price for it.

The ending is one of the best endings I have ever seen in a movie: Hollywood, Europe, Australia or otherwise. It would be worth the price of admission alone if you didn't need the background to understand it. Dancer in the dark is a good art film that will give you plenty to talk about over your double decaf skim milk latté, especially if you also saw Mr Death: The rise and fall of Fred A Leuchter Junior.

Media intelligence (DVD)

  • Bonus footage
  • Interview with Lars
  • Lars' biography
  • Behind-the-scenes documentary: von Trier's 100 eyes
  • Trailer
  • Dancer in the dark official home page
  • Production stills

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (Adult themes)

Surveillance time

138 minutes (2:18 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

VHS rental: 13 June 2001
DVD rental: 4 July 2001
DVD retail: 4 July 2001

Cinema surveillance images

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