Dancer In The Dark is like one of those things that come and hit you like a brick wall when you're least expecting it. In a good way.
I had planned to spend this evening watching FRIENDS reruns and SATC reruns and sat down to this one after a good bit of coaxing. So I was mentally prepared to dislike it. Did not happen.
The film had me from start to finish. Selma, played by Bjork is an impoverished Czech immigrant who lives with her son in a trailer on the property of a policeman and his wife. She works at a nearby (sink-making, I think) factory with her good friend. Selma loves musicals so much she often imagines that the mundane jobs and ordinary people around her are part of a grand musical, taking sounds around her (machines moving, sinks clanking, footsteps) to set the basic beat. Selma suffers from a congenital eye disorder that has her almost-blind and worries that her son will eventually be blind too. Therefore she saves every last cent she makes so that she can afford to get his eyes operated. She has not let anyone in on her blindness, managing to fool even the opthalmologist by learning the test alphabets by rote.
One day the policeman comes over and confesses to Selma that he's gone bankrupt and is afraid his materialistic wife will leave him. Moved by his plight, she tells him her secret to make him feel better - the blindness, the operation, all the money she's saved.
Here their cameraderie is palpable. You can almost feel an unspoken friendship being fostered, between two people who can perfectly commiserate with each other.
You don't even realise when the plot sneaks in and just knocks the wind out of you.
Selma is fired because her near-total blindness is taking it's toll on her job. As it turns out, the policeman so frightened and hard up on his luck, steals her money and tells his wife it's his and that Selma tried to come on to him and needed to be evicted. Selma goes up to his room and pleads to have her money back. He is full of self loathing because of what he did but still refuses to return her money, this time holding her at gun point when she snatches it. She struggles to take it back and he's shot in the bargain. He begs her to finish the job well upon which she shoots him several times and bludgeons his head. She's arrested, found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death. The last scene particularly turned my stomach. Selma is singing a song in her haunting voice when the floorboards open and she's hanged.
Bjork is unbelievable as Selma. She has the soft, amicable yet dreamy voice, except when she';s singing. Then it takes her over and fills the whole screen and you know whoever is singing at that point, Selma or Bjork or both, it's being sung deep from the heart. Listen to 'I've seen it all', it's heartwrenching. Throughout the film there's a disarming smile playing on her lips and her mannerisms and even laughter and tears make her so real, it hurts. All the other characters were fantastic too but none of them could touch her.
Lars Von Trier is the director and the movie is shot with hand held cameras. I don't know much about cinematography so I won't bother commenting. I did love the way the he made the distinction between her day dreams and reality by simply brightening the colours, though. And the rawness of it as opposed to feeling like every last bit was pre-meditated and perfect. You got the feeling that the director did what he wanted to do without giving an eff about what you thought. If you liked it, you were welcome on board and if not, he didn't care.
The songs from the movie are on an album called 'Selmasongs' if you feel like giving it a listen. I for one will be downloading it. And listening to more of Bjork.
To think that till just before watcing this movie, my knowledge of Bjork went as far as 'that nutty lady with the bird dress.'