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Dancer in the Dark

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dancer in the Dark
Dancer in the Dark (Danish poster).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLars von Trier
Produced by
Written byLars von Trier
Music byBjörk
CinematographyRobby Müller
Edited by
  • François Gédigier
  • Molly Marlene Stensgård
Distributed byFine Line Features
Release date
  • 17 May 2000 (2000-05-17) (Cannes)
  • 8 December 2000 (2000-12-08)
Running time
140 minutes[1][2]
BudgetUSD$12.5 million[3]
(120 million kr)
Box office$45.6 million[3][4]
(416 million kr)

Dancer in the Dark (Danish: Danser i mørket) is a 2000 English-language Danish musical melodrama film written and directed by Lars von Trier. It stars Icelandic musician Björk as a daydreaming immigrant factory worker who suffers from a degenerative eye condition and is saving up to pay for an operation to prevent her young son from suffering the same fate. Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Cara Seymour, Peter Stormare, Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Joel Grey also star.

The soundtrack for the film, 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 Sjón. Three songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music were also used in the film.

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). The film was an international co-production among companies based in thirteen countries and regions: Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. It was shot with a handheld camera, and was somewhat inspired by a Dogme 95 look.

Dancer in the Dark premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival to standing ovations and controversy, but was nonetheless awarded the Palme d'Or, along with the Best Actress award for Björk. The song "I've Seen It All", with Thom Yorke, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song but lost to "Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan from Wonder Boys. The film polarized critics, with some deriding it as melodramatic and others lauding it as highly moving and innovative. It appeared on multiple lists of the best films of the 21st century and the best films of all time.


In Washington state in 1964, Selma Ježková, a Czech immigrant, has moved to the United States with her son, Gene Ježek. They live a life of poverty as Selma works at a factory with her good friend Kathy, whom she nicknames Cvalda. She rents a trailer home on the property of town policeman Bill Houston and his wife, Linda. She is also pursued by the shy but persistent Jeff, who also works at the factory.

Selma has a degenerative eye condition and is losing her vision. She has been saving up to pay for an operation which will prevent her young son from losing his vision. She also takes part in rehearsals for a production of The Sound of Music and accompanies Kathy to the local cinema, where together they watch fabulous Hollywood musicals, as Cvalda describes them to her.

In her day-to-day life, Selma slips into daydreams. Soon Jeff and Cvalda begin to realize that Selma can barely see at all. Additionally, Bill reveals to Selma that his materialistic wife spends more than his salary, and the bank is going to take his house. To comfort Bill, Selma reveals her eye condition, hoping that together they can keep each other's secret. Bill then hides in the corner of Selma's home, knowing she can't see him, and watches as she puts some money in her kitchen tin.

The next day, after having broken her machine the night before through careless error, Selma is fired from her job. When she comes home to put her final wages away she finds the tin is empty; she goes next door to report the theft to Bill and Linda, only to hear Linda discussing how Bill has brought home their safe deposit box to count their savings. Knowing that Bill was broke and that the money he is counting must be hers, she confronts him and attempts to take the money back. He draws a gun on her, and in a struggle he is wounded. Linda runs off to tell the police at Bill's command. Bill then begs Selma to take his life, telling her that this will be the only way she will ever reclaim the money that he stole from her. Selma shoots at him several times, but out of blindness manages to only maim Bill further. In the end, she performs a coup de grâce with the safe deposit box. Selma slips into a trance and imagines that Bill's corpse stands up and slow dances with her, urging her to run to freedom. She does, and takes the money to the Institute for the Blind to pay for her son's operation before the police can take it from her.

Selma is caught and eventually put on trial. It is here that she is pegged as a Communist sympathizer and murderer. Although she tells as much truth about the situation as she can, she refuses to reveal Bill's secret, saying that she had promised not to. Additionally, when her claim that the reason she did not have any money was because she had been sending it to her father in Czechoslovakia is proven false, she is convicted and given the death penalty. Cvalda and Jeff eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together and get back Selma's money, using it instead to pay for a trial lawyer who can free her. Selma becomes furious and refuses the lawyer, opting to face the death penalty rather than let her son go blind, but she is deeply distraught as she awaits her death. Although a sympathetic female prison guard named Brenda tries to comfort her, the other state officials are eager to see her executed. Brenda encourages Selma to walk. On the gallows, she becomes terrified, so that she must be strapped to a collapse board. Her hysteria when the hood is placed over her face delays the execution. Selma begins crying hysterically and Brenda cries with her, but Cvalda rushes to inform her that the operation was successful and that Gene will see. Relieved, Selma sings the final song on the gallows with no musical accompaniment, although she is hanged before she finishes.



Much of the film has a similar look to von Trier's earlier Dogme 95-influenced films: it is filmed on low-end, hand-held digital cameras to create a documentary-style appearance. It is not a true Dogme 95 film, however, because the Dogme rules stipulate that violence, non-diegetic music, and period pieces are not permitted. Trier differentiates the musical sequences from the rest of the film by using static cameras and by brightening the colours.


The Great Northern TMY locomotive
The Great Northern TMY locomotive

The film's title suggests the Fred Astaire/Cyd Charisse duet "Dancing in the Dark" from the 1953 film The Band Wagon, which ties in with the film's musical theatre theme.

Actress Björk, who is known primarily as a contemporary composer, had rarely acted before, and has described the process of making this film as so emotionally taxing that she would not act in any film ever again[5][6] (although in 2005, she appeared in Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9). Deneuve and others have described her performance as feeling rather than acting.[7] Björk has said that it is a misunderstanding that she was put off acting by this film; rather, she never wanted to act but made an exception for Lars von Trier.[8]

The musical sequences were filmed simultaneously with over 100 digital cameras so that multiple angles of the performance could be captured and cut together later, thus shortening the filming schedule.

Björk lies down on a stack of birch logs during the "Scatterheart" sequence. In Icelandic and Swedish, "björk" means "birch".

A Danish MY class locomotive (owned by Swedish train operator TÅGAB) was painted in the American Great Northern scheme for the movie, and not repainted afterward.[9] A T43 class locomotive was repainted too, though never used in the film.



In October 2017, Björk posted on her Facebook page that she had been sexually harassed by a "Danish film director she worked with".[10] She commented:

it was extremely clear to me when i walked into the actresses profession that my humiliation and role as a lesser sexually harassed being was the norm and set in stone with the director and a staff of dozens who enabled it and encouraged it. i became aware of that it is a universal thing that a director can touch and harass his actresses at will and the institution of film allows it. When i turned the director down repeatedly he sulked and punished me and created for his team an impressive net of illusion where i was framed as the difficult one. ... and in my opinion he had a more fair and meaningful relationship with his actresses after my confrontation so there is hope. let's hope this statement supports the actresses and actors all over. let's stop this. there is a wave of change in the world."[11]

The Los Angeles Times found evidence identifying him as Lars von Trier.[12] Von Trier has rejected Björk's allegation that he sexually harassed her during the making of the film Dancer in the Dark, and said "That was not the case. But that we were definitely not friends, that’s a fact," to Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in its online edition. Peter Aalbaek Jensen, the producer of Dancer in the Dark, told Jyllands-Posten that "As far as I remember we [Lars von Trier and I] were the victims. That woman was stronger than both Lars von Trier and me and our company put together. She dictated everything and was about to close a movie of 100m kroner [$16m]."[13] After von Trier's statement, Björk explained the details about this incident, saying:[14]

in the spirit of #metoo i would like to lend women around the world a hand with a more detailed description of my experience with a danish director . it feels extremely difficult to come out with something of this nature into the public , especially when immediately ridiculed by offenders . i fully sympathise with everyone who hesitates , even for years . but i feel it is the right time especially now when it could make a change . here comes a list of the encounters that i think count as sexual harassment :

1 after each take the director ran up to me and wrapped his arms around me for a long time in front of all crew or alone and stroked me sometimes for minutes against my wishes

2 when after 2 months of this i said he had to stop the touching , he exploded and broke a chair in front of everyone on set . like someone who has always been allowed to fondle his actresses . then we all got sent home .

3 during the whole filming process there were constant awkward paralysing unwanted whispered sexual offers from him with graphic descriptions , sometimes with his wife standing next to us .

4 while filming in sweden , he threatened to climb from his room´s balcony over to mine in the middle of the night with a clear sexual intention , while his wife was in the room next door . i escaped to my friends room . this was what finally woke me up to the severity of all this and made me stand my ground

5 fabricated stories in the press about me being difficult by his producer . this matches beautifully the weinstein methods and bullying . i have never eaten a shirt . not sure that is even possible .

6 i didnt comply or agree on being sexually harassed . that was then portrayed as me being difficult . if being difficult is standing up to being treated like that , i´ll own it .


let´s break this curse



Björk's manager, Derek Birkett, has also accused von Trier's actions in the past, stating:[15]

I have worked with Björk for over 30 years and have never made a single statement or interview regarding our work together. This time is different.

I have read the lies written by Lars and his producer Peter about Björk – and feel compelled to speak out and put the record straight. Over the last 30 years the Dancer in the Dark project is the one and only time she has fallen out with a collaborator.

This was a result of the directors ongoing, disrespectful verbal and physical abuse which continued after both Björk and myself demanded that he stop behaving this way. Björk completed the film out of respect for the cast and everyone involved. I feel compelled to publicly speak out in fierce support of Björk in regards to her terrible experiences working with Lars Von Trier, and I back what she has said 110%.


Critical response

Björk promoting the film at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.
Björk promoting the film at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

Reaction to Dancer in the Dark was polarized. For example, on The Movie Show, Margaret Pomeranz gave it five stars while David Stratton gave it a zero, a score shared only by Geoffrey Wright's Romper Stomper (1992).[16][17] Stratton later described it as his "favourite horror film".[18] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian dubbed Dancer in the Dark the "most shallow and crudely manipulative" film of 2000,[19] and later slammed it as "one of the worst films, one of the worst artworks and perhaps one of the worst things in the history of the world."[20] The response is reflected in the film's official website, which posts both positive and negative reviews on its main page.[21] The diverse reviews result in an overall 69% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.80/10, based on 121 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "Dancer in Dark can be grim, dull, and difficult to watch, but even so, it has a powerful and moving performance from Björk and is something quite new and visionary."[22] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[23]

The film was praised for its stylistic innovations. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated: "It smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies. It returns to the wellsprings. It is a bold, reckless gesture."[24] Edward Guthmann from the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "It's great to see a movie so courageous and affecting, so committed to its own differentness."[25] However, criticism was directed at its storyline. Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post described the film as "meretricious fakery" and called it "so unrelenting in its manipulative sentimentality that, if it had been made by an American and shot in a more conventional manner, it would be seen as a bad joke."[26]

In 2016, David Ehrlich ranked Dancer in the Dark as one of the best films of the 21st century, hailing Björk's performance as the "single greatest feat of film acting" since 2000.[27] Björk's performance is also ranked in the "25 Best Performances Not Nominated for an Oscar of the 21st Century" list.[28]


Dancer in the Dark premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the Palme d'Or, along with the Best Actress award for Björk.[29] The song "I've Seen It All" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, at the performance of which Björk wore her famous swan dress.

Sight & Sound magazine conducts a poll every ten years of the world's finest film directors to find out the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. This poll has been going since 1952, and has become the most recognised poll of its kind in the world.[30] In 2012, Cyrus Frisch was one of the four directors who voted for Dancer in the Dark. Frisch commented: "A superbly imaginative film that leaves conformity in shambles."[31] Director Oliver Schmitz also lauded the work as "relentless, claustrophobic, the best movie about capital punishment as far as I’m concerned".[32]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 25 March 2001 Best Original Song "I've Seen It All", by Björk, Lars von Trier, and Sjón Sigurdsson Nominated [33]
Bodil Awards 2001 Bodil Award for Best Danish Film Lars von Trier Nominated [citation needed]
Best Actress Björk Won [34]
Cannes Film Festival May 2000 Palme d'Or Lars von Trier Won [29]
Best Actress Björk Won
César Awards 24 February 2001 Best Foreign Film Lars von Trier Nominated [35]
European Film Awards 2 December 2000 Best Film Lars von Trier Won [36]
Best Actress Björk Won
Best Director – People's Choice Lars von Trier Won
Best Actress – People's Choice Björk Won
Independent Spirit Awards March 2001 Best Foreign Film Lars von Trier Won [37]
Golden Globes 21 January 2001 Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Björk Nominated [38]
Best Original Song "I've Seen It All", by Björk, Lars von Trier, and Sjón Sigurdsson Nominated
Goya Awards 2001 Best European Film Lars von Trier Won [39]

See also


  1. ^ Lasagna, Roberto; Lena, Sandra (May 2003). Lars von Trier. Gremese Editore. p. 124. ISBN 978-88-7301-543-7. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  2. ^ "DANCER IN THE DARK (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 13 July 2000. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Dancer in the Dark - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  4. ^ "Dancer in the Dark (2000)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  5. ^ "Bjork launches celluloid comeback". BBC News. 2 November 2005. Retrieved 22 December 2006. Bjork vowed never to act again after making Dancer in the Dark in 2000, despite winning a best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
  6. ^ "Björk Uncovers Dancer Feud". October 2000. Retrieved 22 December 2006. Right now, I feel very strong about focusing on music
  7. ^ Pytlik, Mark (29 May 2003). Bjork: Wow and Flutter. ECW Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-1-55022-556-3. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 December 2008. Retrieved 24 November 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "RailPictures.Net Photo: TAG TMY-106 TAGAB TMY at Kristinehamn, Sweden by Peter Rabijns".
  10. ^ Nyren, Erin (15 October 2017). "Björk Shares Experience of Harassment By 'Danish Director:' He Created 'An Impressive Net of Illusion'". Variety. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  11. ^ Björk (15 October 2017). "i am inspired by the women everywhere who are speaking up online to tell about my experience with a danish director". Facebook. Archived from the original on 16 October 2017. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  12. ^ D'Zurilla, Christie (17 October 2017). "Björk details alleged harassment; Lars von Trier denies accusations". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  13. ^ Staff and agencies (19 October 2017). "'Not the case': Lars Von Trier denies sexually harassing Björk". the Guardian.
  14. ^ "Björk".
  15. ^ "Björk's manager accuses director Lars Von Trier of "verbal and physical abuse" - NME". 25 October 2017.
  16. ^ Pomeranz, Margeret (September 2012). "Dancer in the Dark".
  17. ^ "At the Movies' Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton's best bust-ups". 16 September 2014. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  18. ^ "Summer Broadband Specials - Musicals". ABC at the Movies. ABC. 9 December 2004. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  19. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (14 September 2000). "Dancer in the dark". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  20. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (22 May 2009). "Dancer in the Dark". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 May 2009. Xan Brooks leads a critics' roundtable on the highs and lows, the sublime to the ridiculous at the 2009 Cannes film festival, before sailing into the sunset. See video at 8:20.
  21. ^ "Dancer in the Dark official website". Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  22. ^ "Dancer in the Dark (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  23. ^ "Dancer in the Dark Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (20 October 2000). "Dancer in the Dark". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 22 December 2006. Some reasonable people will admire Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark," and others will despise it. An excellent case can be made for both positions.
  25. ^ Guthmann, Edward (26 October 2000). "'Dancer' Dares to Be Different". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 22 December 2006. Singer Bjork amazing in von Trier's tragedy
  26. ^ Foreman, Jonathan (22 September 2000). "Dreck Dressed As Art". The New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc. p. 47. Retrieved 22 December 2006. Despite 2 Good Performances, 'Dancer' Is Just Fakery with an Anti-american Drum To Beat
  27. ^ Ehrlich, David; Kohn, Eric. "The Best Movies of the 21st Century, According to IndieWire's Film Critics". IndieWire. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  28. ^ "The 25 Best Performances Not Nominated for an Oscar in the 21st Century, From Kristen Stewart to Andy Serkis". IndieWire. 2 September 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  29. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Dancer in the Dark". Archived from the original on 20 September 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2009.
  30. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The best damned film list of them all - Roger Ebert's Journal - Roger Ebert".
  31. ^ "Cyrus Frisch - BFI". Archived from the original on 27 August 2012.
  32. ^ "Oliver Schmitz | BFI". Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  33. ^ "THE 73RD ACADEMY AWARDS". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  34. ^ Sloan, Jane (2007). Reel Women: An International Directory of Contemporary Feature Films about Women. Scarecrow Press. p. 44. ISBN 1461670829.
  35. ^ James, Alison (29 January 2001). "'Others,' 'Harry' are Cesar faves". Variety. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  36. ^ Blaney, Martin (3 December 2000). "Von Trier, Wong score at European Film Awards". Screen Daily. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  37. ^ "Tiger triumph at independent awards". BBC. 25 March 2001. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  38. ^ "Dancer in the Dark". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  39. ^ Schwartz, Ronald (2008). Great Spanish Films Since 1950. Scarecrow Press. p. 337. ISBN 1461696615.
  40. ^ NY Times review


  • Georg Tiefenbach: Drama und Regie (Writing and Directing): Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2010. ISBN 978-3-8260-4096-2.

External links

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