Dancer in the Dark (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Robbins Recipe: Fargo meets The Sound of Music. If Tarkovsky had made a musical comedy, this would be it.

Ya gotta love a personality with a big ego. Director Lars von Trier has one of the greatest egos in filmmaking history, the kind of hubris possessed heretofore only by Satan in Paradise Lost. In the film business, only Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich can approach him.

But, of course, there is a major difference between von Trier and the other three. In the case of Satan and Welles, they were almost as good as they thought they were. In the case of Bogdanovich, he was capable of walking enough walk to justify some of the talk.


Von Trier, however, is seriously delusionary.

I can picture him in a scene similar to the one in "Ed Wood", when Johnny Depp is in the audience, mouthing the bad narration along with Plan 9 From Outer Space. Lars sits there in the audience, watching the camera slip down accidentally to someone's stomach, or watching the lighting increase, then decrease instantaneously while the actors walk out of the scene and he's filming a blank wall, and voices appear from nowhere. And Lars is sitting there admiring his genius. I mean, it's one thing to use a hand-held camera, but it may be carrying cinema verite to an unnecessary extreme by letting the hand-held camera be held by the hand of Katharine Hepburn.

Furthermore, his "principles" only exist when they feed his current need for ego gratification. Although von Trier is known to pontificate against the shamelessly artificial sentimentality of Hollywood, the film is far more shamelessly manipulative than Disney's "Remember the Titans", for example. Bjork plays a poor little match girl, impoverished, handicapped, undereducated, downtrodden, manipulated, so inept and pathetic that the kindest people feel sorry for her while the cruelest use her. The film milks that for all the pathos you would expect from the concept. Dickens would be embarrassed to write an orphan this pathetic.

On the other hand, von Trier does show hints of inspiration as a writer. He's out of control, and still undisciplined, but he has a fierce energy that can't be denied. This is a powerful concept, and can be moving, delivered by good performers, although they don't always deliver solid scenes. It's a bizarre film, combining deeply tragic elements with light Hollywood musical numbers, but there is a reason for it. The Hollywood musicals represent the lead character's escape from her bleak life, and the scenes represent what she wants her life to be. They belong in her life, so they belong in the film. They are a mental shift in tone from her own day-to-day existence, just as they are a shift in tone from the everyday existence portrayed by the film. They are masterfully done. It is just wonderful how von Trier used the ambient noises - the machines in the factory or the clickety-clack of a railroad moving at constant speed - to provide the rhythm for his fantasy musical numbers. For once, his ego was matched by his performance.

In the best of worlds, someone would introduce von Trier to Sean Penn. Penn is potentially one of the best filmmakers in the world, looking for the right script. Von Trier is one of the best writers in the world, living in the delusion that he knows how to make movies. They have a similar sense of style and tone, and they share an offbeat, deadpan sense of humor. David Morse has worked for both of them recently. Maybe he should arrange a lunch. I would love to see them collaborate. As long as von Trier did the writing and Penn the filming.


  • Bjork is as good in this film as you have heard, and deserved an Oscar nomination. Like Cher, although singing is her primary profession, she is a better actress than a singer. If you're a cynic, you might argue that it wasn't a high hurdle for either of them to clear.
  • Peter Stormare singing is something to hear. I believe he went to the William Shatner Vocal School. After watching him here, I think they should go back and put some musical numbers in "Fargo"
  • The New York Post wrote " ... 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". I made a similar point about Penn's "The Pledge" - if he had done it under an assumed French or Scandinavian name, he would now be considered the supreme genius of the international cinema.
  • In a crazy and inexplicable, almost metaphysical twist, this film is longer than Bjork's actual life.
  • One question - how does a Czech who emigrated to Washington State come to speak English with the official Dick Van Dyke chimneysweep accent.
  • The film has shown a tremendous appeal to young viewers, but your likelihood to appreciate it is inversely proportionate to your age.


IMDb rating

less than 18








DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen letterbox

  • two feature-length commentaries

  • two documentaries on Lars von Trier

Roger Ebert wrote - It is not a "well made" film, it is not in "good taste", is not "plausible" or, for many people "entertaining". But ....

He then went on to explain the positives, and to defend his 3.5 star rating. He's right, of course, there are many positives. Large ones. And I don't consider plausibility and good taste to be requirements for filmmaking. I don't even dispute his 3.5 stars, or even four. It is a special movie, and we should recognize that.

But I ask you to consider this. If a film is poorly made, and not entertaining, and three hours long, how many positives would it need before you'd watch it?

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: 3.5 stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 82

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 68% positive overall, 71% from the top critics.

  • The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. In all fairness, though, it should be noted that the judges barely escaped with their lives after the result was announced, accompanied by a hearty round of hissing and booing.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.3, Apollo users 94/100, making it one of the most highly-regarded films in history. It is ranked #145 in the IMDb top 250 of all time.
  • With their dollars ... did a surprising $4 million in the USA, pretty good for an three hour musical comedy about murder and capital punishment!
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is impossible to rate. People love it. People hate it. As a general rule, it is not a mass-audience movie, so I suggest you avoid it unless you have a taste for the innovative and unusual.

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