Circuit Rewind: Dancer in the Dark (2000)

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The 2015 edition of the Cannes Film Festival is currently underway, so let’s take a look back on the 15th anniversary for Lars von Trier’s Palme d’Or winning “Dancer in the Dark.” Before he was person non grata at Cannes, von Trier rarely seemed to miss an opportunity to screen one of his films at the fest. It was his dark musical starring Bjork that would earn the director his only Palme d’Or.

The film follows an immigrant mother who dreams of her life becoming like a Hollywood musical. Instead, she learns that she is going blind, struggling to raise money to get treatment for her son to avoid the same fate and eventually accidentally killing a friend and being charged with murder.

“Dancer in the Dark” is an interesting take on the musical genre. Most musicals are giddy and bubbly, with a grand finale that sends everyone off in a pleasant mood; instead, von Trier juxtaposes the musical numbers with the harsh realities of the lead’s life. It was an interesting experiment for von Trier that turned out to work quite well.

“Dancer” beat out some noticeable films for the top prize at Cannes, including “In the Mood for Love” and the Coen brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Bjork also won the Best Actress award during the fest. It would go on to be nominated for one Oscar, Best Original Song, though most people remember Bjork’s swan dress more.

After “Dancer,” von Trier’s films further pushed the boundaries with the likes of “Antichrist,” “Melancholia” and “Nymphomaniac.” Those films, and von Trier’s comments during the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, have become more of the filmmaker’s calling card. Still “Dancer” remains one of his strongest works.

Still, “Dancer” is often a forgotten part of 2000’s filmography. American audiences didn’t take much notice of it at the time either, as the film only grossed a little over $4 million in 13 weeks of release. But, if for nothing more than its unique place in the musical genre, “Dancer in the Dark” deserves some recognition as it celebrates its 15th anniversary.