Lars Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark is one my favourite films. I’ve only seen it twice however Dancer In The Dark is one of them films that are so beautiful but so tragic that you’ll only want to watch it once and probably you’ll not want to see it again till a significant time has passed. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend you to watch it before reading this. It stars Bjork which I absolutely adore. The story is about about a woman who is going blind and is trying to save money for her child to have an eye surgery because he shares the same genetic condition as her.
Dancer In The Dark is a musical drama where the protagonist (Selma) has an obsession with musicals. Every time something tragic happens to her or she’s in an uncomfortable situation, she turns the whole situation into a happy jolly musical inside her head. The first element of the film I adore is an unusual aspect and that is the lighting.
In this scene she is in court for allegedly murdering her neighbour which was actually in self-defence. The scene is not fully lit and the colouring is rather cold which makes the overall scene rather gloomy which represents the hard tragic reality Selma is into, facing the death penalty. So the audience is affected by this rather sad scene and the overall lighting represents that sort of mood. It’s cold-ish and dark.
Eventually Selma turns the whole scene into a cheery and jolly musical inside her head and the lighting and colouring of the scene changes. The colours and the lighting become brighter and warmer. The highlights stand out more. This is not only just done to represent that she is imagining this but to also brighten the mood of the scene. It creates a mood contrast if compared to the shots that represent her cold reality. Overall this change of colour and lighting brightens the mood of the whole scene.
What also makes Dancer In The Dark great is the editing and the cinematography. Lars Von Trier likes to film in a documentary style fashion, a lot of the times the camera is handheld. He believes the camera itself is an actor as well. He likes his actors/actresses to just read the script and just go straight into acting and then the camera is there to spontaneously film and react with what’s happening.
The camera operator is nor aware of how the actors/actresses are going to react hence it makes the action itself more real. The whole film itself multiplies all the emotions that Lars wants the audience to feel. By also filming handheld, it gives the actors more space to act and it gives the whole film a theatrical effect.
Just like documentaries seem real because the camera spontaneously reacts to what’s happening with real life people, Lars tries to do that with the camera. The camera is acting as well as I mentioned. Some of the cuts as well sometimes feel like continuity errors however they help to focus at the emotions of the characters.
Lars completely ignores time and space and focuses on facial expressions and body movement. An actor might be talking and he would cut in the middle of the conversation and the actor/actress would be positioned a little bit differently but with a different facial expression which significantly helps with character development.
Because of Lars filming style the ending itself is so disturbing to watch. It almost feels as you’re there watching Selma having a breakdown because she’s about to be hanged. I myself struggled to watch the ending because of how emotionally overwhelming it is.
I must say when a film is featured at Cannes Film Festival it’s always worth it. Bjork won the Prix d’interprétation féminine (best actress award) which combined with Lars style of filming and the overall final edit of the film, this film to me is and it will always be a 5/5.