Dancer in the Dark (2000): Von Trier’s Cannes Fest Top Prize-Winning Film Starring Bjork

Denmark’s enfant terrible Lars von Trier won the top prize of the 2000 Cannes Film Fest for “Dancer in the Dark,” a postmodernist, deconstructive movie musical, starring the singer Bjork, who deservedly won the acting kudos.

This is the third film in von Trier’s “Golden Heart Trilogy”; the other two films are Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998), which also premiered at the Cannes Film Fest.

Original, disturbing, and rather grim, the musical melodrama, which is set in   in the early 1960s, features Bjork as Selma Jezkova, a Czech immigrant who works in the local metal factory, while raising by herself her young son (Vladica Kostic).

 Living a dreary life, Selma lives in a shabby caravan she rents from the town’s policeman Bill (David Morse). A lover of musicals, Selma bursts into song-and-dance as a form of escapism from her dreary life.

The film has polarized critics: some seen it as a sentimental female melodrama, while others perceive if as a significant contribution to the musical genre. 

Fans of Von Trier admire the movie for its daring audacity, but his detractors are quick to point out elements of misogyny as well as strong thematic resemblance to “Breaking the Waves,” which also featured a doomed, child-like heroine (played by Emily Watson).

 However, all critics agree that Bjork renders an astonishingly raw performance, not to mention great emotional singing, which is in complete congruent with the dark, drab and grim tone of the surrounding musical.

 The film’s soundtrack, released as the album Selmasongs, was written mainly by Björk, but a number of songs featured contributions from Mark Bell and the lyrics were by von Trier and Sjon.

Three songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s prize-winning musical, The “Sound of Music,” were also included in the film.

Shot with a handheld camera, the film displays some of the aesthetic agenda of Dogme 95.

The song “I’ve Seen It All”, with Thom Yorke, was nominated for the Best Song Oscar, but lost to Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed from Curtis Hanson’s “Wonder Boys.”