Director: Lars von Trier (2000)
Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare
Find it: IMDB
Selma (Bjork) is a European immigrant relocated to America where she hopes to make a living. But life is not as happy as her cheerful outlook would deserve. She's suffering from a terribly degenerative disease that will soon leave her blind. And her young son looks to one day suffer the same fate. Earning a meager living, she's saving up for an expensive operation that she hopes will save his eyesight. All she has is a love for musicals and a really great singing voice.
Where I found the equally artful Requiem For A Dream to be dark, disturbing but overrated, Dancer In The Dark is completely successful in its aspirations to break your heart. I've never thought much of Lars von Trier, but this is his least pretentious and most genuine movie so far. The performances and direction are naturalistic, which makes up for some of the dodgy acting. Like Requiem For A Dream, it starts off reasonably light, but doesn't take long to build up to a crescendo of misery. Bjork is easier to sympathise with than Requiem's collection of desperate druggies. Also, she can sing something beautiful, which is more than Jared Leto can ever say for himself.
Whenever something terrible happens, Selma retreats into a fantasy musical world, and these are by far the most powerful and affecting sequences in the film. Von Trier makes the most of his leading lady's considerable talents, each of the songs achingly beautiful. David Morse and Peter Stormare join in with the singing too. They can't sing for toffee, but nor do they need to be able to. Dancer In The Dark is a realistic musical, its fantastical elements contrasting with the grit and realism of the story. It's quite a cruel trick by von Trier to have something horrible happen to lovely Bjork every time she starts singing.
The singing does soften the blow somewhat. Good. Because I certainly need comforting after watching Dancer In The Dark. This is what happens when you let Lars von Trier direct a musical.