PALME D’OR – “Dancer in the Dark”, he was a voice –

© Zentropa

The Cannes Film Festival will not take place. In any case, not in May. And not in the form we know. The editorial staff offers you a non-exhaustive selection of Palmes d’Or which have marked the history of the festival since its creation.

In the filmography of troublemaker Lars von Trier, Dancer in the Dark (2000) represents a central point of passage, almost allowing it to be cut. It is first of all his first feature film against the current of Dogme95, an aesthetic movement initiated with Thomas Vinterberg in the 90s which aimed to capture reality and its naturalism without any artifice of staging (in reaction especially the wave of effects imported from the United States during this period). The film also puts an end to the “Golden Heart” trilogy also composed of Breaking the Waves (1996) and The idiots (1998): the director’s first major series of films which recount the adventure of characters who, despite the difficulties of their existence, manage to remain as they are, pure in their judgments and their interpersonal skills. And what is interesting with these two Stations of the Cross created by Dancer in the Darkis that the latter manages to deliver a form that until The House that Jack Built will define or at least will punctuate the work of the filmmaker: that is to say, a demiurge work on naturalism and melodrama and a new taste for formal experiments.

Melodrama, melody

The film tells the story of Selma (performed by musical artist Björk, performance award), a Czechoslovak immigrant living in the United States with her son Gene. Her passion is music: she is a member of an amateur troupe setting up a musical. However, Selma suffers from an incurable and hereditary disease which causes her to gradually lose her sight. She then works in a metallurgical factory to collect enough money in order to operate her son, and cure him of this disease. Following a manipulation by her neighbor Bill, Selma is forced to leave her home, her job and her troop. Then follows a descent into hell which will lead her to experience the worst sufferings, while she gradually loses her sight, but never her goal: to treat her son.

Already glimpsed in Breaking the Waves and the story of Bess, the deployment of melodrama in Lars von Trier’s cinema reaches its climax here through the musical and its abyss. Beyond the story, this descent into hell characteristic of all of the filmmaker’s works, the film’s modus operendi remains music, the way it emerges as it fades away: how to welcome it, what is its reason and its way of intervening. Because there is also a will, as said above, to detach from Dogma, 95 Lars von Trier thus gives melodrama an ultra-symbolic connotation that fiction, however, seeks to disentangle: music is not just a finality. specific to Selma’s story and feelings. Because if it wants to be poetic, like a pause in weight in this world in love with its gravity, it arrives, sings and shows itself with an overflowing naturalism.

I have seen it all, cult sequence (© Zentropa)

The song I’ve seen it all, also nominated at the Oscars, is the perfect illustration: punctuated by the rails of the train, defined by verses detached from this cadence (like dialogues sung between two characters) and a low-clip aesthetic at the antipodes of the well-known standards of the musical at the cinema (we are more on the side of Demy’s, for example). It is also the presence of Björk, exceptional in his singing and his movements (she confessed to having “hated” acting), which makes the scene natural, without artifice: her interpretation also aims to make the real inhabit. , and the desire for freedom in it.

From symbolism flows an essence of naturalism, and that’s about all that Lars von Trier will do in the rest of his career: Dogville part of an ultra-theatrical symbolism (its decor, its cutting) but its otherness makes it more natural than ever, same observation in the relationship between the planet Melancholia and the duo of sisters Justine / Claire or even from the sophistication of the serial killer of The House that Jack built to offer a thousand and one nuances on violence and reality (before a nihilist finale which, well, shatters everything we have just demonstrated). And when suddenly the music in Dancer in the Dark disappears in favor of what could be called a “return to reality”, there is necessarily a duplication of naturalism: because if Lars von Trier pushes the codes of melodrama to their extreme, the relationship to music makes it possible to speculate on naturalism – on what is real, not fantasy.


And to the famous question of asking what is real and fantasized, Lars von Trier responds with a staging device innovative for the time and which like the greatest musicals in history will revolutionize the genre. In each Selmasongs – title of the soundtrack composed by Björk listing all the songs of the film – the filmmaker used a hundred digital cameras embedded in the sets, all filming at the same time the performances of the actors during the shooting. When edited, the rendering is closer to naturalism: the film gives the impression of a live broadcast of the dance, like a clip shot live.

1637703666 541 PALME DOR Dancer in the Dark he was a
The feeling of a live performance (© Zentropa)

But the mainspring of fiction wants us to understand that these dance sequences are of the order of fantasy: Selma conceived these scenes more than she actually saw them. Then comes the order according to which music is only a symbolic addition to reality. Only the aesthetics of these scenes imagined makes them oh so natural. Here the film shows its main strength: belief. If Selma chooses to believe her dances are real, so can the viewer – the dances themselves being un-folkloric and surreal. It is of course the power of cinema to show a fantasy or a dream as a principle of reality, only Dancer in the Dark has the particularity of increasing the number of image regimes so as not to fall into a certain Manichaeism: that is to say that what is real can be dreamed of, and what is a dream can be real.

And it is precisely in this force of forms that the lungs of intrigue, of melodrama, are located. Because the dances tell something in the film, they are a repercussion, a shapeless order in the staging that allows it as much to liberate it as to contain it in its active principle (belief, overlap between reality and dream). Thereby, Dancer in the Dark is more than a film of descent into hell: it is a heart of gold, like the trilogy to which it belongs, insofar as the staging and the expression of its actress contain within them the drama and the surrounding violence; there is no detachment in seeing happiness danced and violence cried. Music is only a liberation, allowing his character to survive. Basically, yes, Lars von Trier is an optimist.

We would like to give thanks to the writer of this write-up for this outstanding content

PALME D’OR – “Dancer in the Dark”, he was a voice –