Dancer in the Dark (2000)

(On Cable TV, August 2016) I’m reasonably sure I disliked Dancer in the Dark, but it does have a few interesting things going for it. I’m not normally a fan of writer/director Lars von Trier, and the first thirty-some minutes of this film feature his worst tendencies: Muddy naturalistic cinematography (filmed on early-generation digital cameras), tepid pacing, depressing characters in even more depressing situations… This example being set, it would be easy to figure that the rest of the film would just as unbearable. But then, a full musical number happens! That’s when Dancer in the Dark becomes interesting, clashing between the slick expectations of a musical number with the naturalistic low-fi style of an independent drama. It’s a remarkable effect, and it does much to make the film interesting despite its worst characteristics. The rest of the film arguably gets better and worse: On the plus side, there’s a murder, more musical numbers and an exceptionally unusual conclusion. On the minus side, everything drags on much longer than it should and the melodrama gets ridiculous to the point where even the depressing conclusion feels like unintentional comedy. (Thematic critique of the United States? Oh boy.) I’d shorten the last hour considerably, but unfortunately that may mean losing the pretty good courtroom dance number. Bjork feels like a special effect of her own, singing her numbers, holding her own in acting scenes and, of course, looking innocently cute throughout. So, what to make of Dancer in the Dark? I’m favouring mild dislike, even despite a fondness for conceptual daring. But I don’t know, really.

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