Dancer in the Dark ★★★★½

I delayed in seeing this for a long time because I found The Idiots so unpalatable and so unrewarding, though I've enjoyed most of the other von Trier films I've seen. My primary thought whilst watching this is that it succeeds in doing much of what French film in the 50s and 60s failed to do; it's a European view of America via Hollywood crime films and musicals, but the difference from Godard and Demy is that this film actually works. It's a perverse yet perfect view of how America might seem to a foreigner, a sort of distillation of Americana that's occasionally reminiscent of Lynch, Coens, or Cassavetes without ever seeming derivative. It's far too weird to be seriously indebted to anything else, and being filmed in Sweden with a largely European cast makes it a sort of nightmarish stage version of the Pacific Northwest. It treads a fine line between earnest commentary on injustice, and wanton, brutal punishment of its audience and cast. Just the idea of putting Catherine Deneuve and Björk into a factory in Washington state is perverse enough, but obviously that's just the beginning of this film's atrocities. (I remember someone's claim once that in Bergman's films people say worse things to each other than almost any other films, perhaps in von Trier's they do worse things to each other than in other films.) The film is about 20 minutes too long and not all of the music works, but it has a unique raw power in how it mixes reality with fantasy. The escapism of musicals, power hierarchies, and inequality are minor themes. A great film for those who can suspend disbelief and stomach some unpleasantness and mild undertones of preachy anti-Americanism from a director who has never been there.