F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 18, 2015)

18 06 2015

If you watched “Les Misérables” and thought, “This was great, but I really wish Jean-Luc Godard directed it,” then I have quite the movie to recommend.  You simply have to watch Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark,” which he made back in 2000 (before the remarks about sympathizing with Hitler).  This kitchen sink realist drama/musical has to be one of the most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching films I have ever seen.

As you might have pondered reading that last sentence, realist drama and the movie musical are two territories that seldom overlap.  Hard-hitting, issues-based filmmaking concerns itself primarily with getting us to focus on the real, observable world.  Musicals, on the other hand, mostly offer us a pleasant diversion away from thinking about those problems.  von Trier finds the harmony between these two elements and combines them to devastating effect in my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Over the course of “Dancer in the Dark,” Björk’s Czech immigrant Selma Ježková slowly loses her eyesight and thus her ability to provide for her son.  The degenerative disease also takes away her one passionate activity outside of work: acting in community musical theater.  With that gone, she begins playing out musical numbers in her head – which we get to see acted out as vivid productions – to escape the depressing fate before her.

Essentially, Selma’s life recalls Fantine from “Les Misérables,” played out in slow motion and for an entire feature.  So, needless to say, “Dancer in the Dark” is not for those looking for a joyous, uplifting experience.  But those looking for an intellectually stimulating as well as emotionally engaging watch simply must watch this little marvel of a film.  Those who endure will be stunned by how anything can simultaneously be Brechtian and maudlin as well as beautiful and tragic.

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