Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark ★★★★½

At first, I questioned if this was labeled correctly. A Lars von Trier movie in the musical section? Bjork? Happiness? This isn't the LVT I know (and kind of love) from Antichrist and Melancholia. But as the story progresses and Bjork's character is put through some serious shit I began to recognize those old von Trier chestnuts. What makes this film stand out from those other two movies are the sheer power of Bjork's half-horrible and half-amazing performance and the truly fantastic musical numbers. I'm not a fan of Bjork's music but what she does here is really great, taking the emotional and thematic happenings and melting them into a musical melange which features a lot of percussion and diagetic sound becoming the rhythm and melody of the numbers. Von Trier also changes his directorial style for these flights of fancy (almost all of them take place in Bjork's imagination with the distinct exception of the final number) as he subdues his usually frantic camerawork for static, often very wide shots. His crazy editing is still there, so they don't feel entirely out of place, but it's a great strategy to call attention to her only means of escape.

I called Bjork's performance half-horrible and half-amazing because scene to scene and sometimes shot to shot she vacillates from being entirely believable and heartbreaking to a caricature of a bad actor in a performance art installation. I don't even know how she does it, and it doesn't really harm the film at all, because von Trier is constantly messing around with the tone and plot of the movie. This echoes Bjork's flights of fancy in a feedback loop that turns the whole thing into one big mess of emotions and formal trickery.

And hoo boy, those emotions. As things got worse and worse for Bjork I continued to go for the ride. It ends with one of the most intense things I've seen in a long while. Just wrecked me for a few hours after watching. It doesn't help that it uses songs from The Sound of Music and twists them for its own sad purposes. How are you going to do "My Favorite Things" like that? Yikes! A singular film.