Tuesday, August 5, 2008

DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars von Trier, 2000, Denmark) Lars von Trier’s DANCER IN THE DARK is a damning indictment of the glorified American Dream, revealing a rotting and putrid corpus delicti. It thematically deconstructs one of the great American Novels, Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: that is, the deliberant murder of innocence by the People. Unfortunately, Selma doesn’t have a Court appointed Atticus Finch to defend her. Here, it’s not Tom Robinson being convicted for being black, it’s Selma’s infernal conviction for being a foreigner, a supposed communist, a naïve young woman pushed and manipulated beyond the edge of reason. It’s no coincidence that our heroine’s name is Selma; she conjures the spirit of the city in Alabama that was the focal point of the Civil Rights Movement. Bjork portrays Selma with sugercube sweetness, her elfin features playful and optimistic, flashing a shy smile or gently flirtatious childlike grin. It is really a subtle and deeply emotional performance. Set in the McCarthy Era1950s, Selma works in a factory all day (even a few night shifts) and puts hairpins on cards just to save money for her son’s operation: he is going blind because he inherited her degenerative genetic ocular condition. Selma’s pervasive guilt is the dramatic undercurrent and key to understanding the decisions she makes: she will sacrifice everything for her son. She exists in a prison of darkening gloom but escapes into a colorful Fred Astaire fantasy world of dancing and music where she fully breathes and becomes alive. A child’s candy tin is representative of her hope, and it’s from this metal heart that her future is stolen. Her landlord, confidant, and neighbor, the local Sheriff, betrays this sacred trust and destroys Selma. Authority not only fails her at every turn but it outright attacks her: she is victim turned defendant. Trier films with hand-held cameras and bleaches the color from every scene, giving the film a Gulag like neo-realism. But the fantasy sequences bloom and flower with bright colors and joyful music, lightening quick edits and well-choreographed dance numbers. Selma came to America seeking salvation but our people, our government, and our country failed her. But she proved stronger…she didn’t fail her son. (B+)

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