Thursday, March 18, 2004

More Danish Angst

(If time and energy permit, what follows will be revised. Just got back from these screenings, but I want to watch the UD-DePaul NCAA game that I've been taping. These are some preliminary thoughts.)

The Wexner Center's Lars von Trier retrospective wraps up next Thursday. That's good and bad. I'm now convinced that he is one of today's major filmmakers, so it's a little deflating that I've seen just about everything there is until his next project. (His miniseries THE KINGDOM hasn't been part of it, so that remains as something to track down.) On the other hand, these movies are such emotional workouts that I could use a break from these thrilling yet exhausting experiences.

Tonight's selections were MEDEA and DANCER IN THE DARK. I'd seen the latter when it was released a few years ago. I liked it more on this second viewing, although "liked" doesn't seem to be the appropriate word in connection with such a weighty film. The basics... Bjork plays the Czechoslovakian immigrant Selma. She works in a northwest US factory and is scraping together as much money as she can. Selma is going blind, but she isn't saving the money to improve her sight. She knows that her son has the same condition and wants him to have an operation to save him from suffering that fate. Since this is a von Trier film, we can expect that the heroine will be in for a rough go of it, and sure enough, she does not have it easy. But, hey, it's a musical!

Von Trier's best known films--BREAKING THE WAVES, DANCER IN THE DARK, and the upcoming DOGVILLE--are melodramas that shamelessly manipulate the audience's emotions. Each of these films have moments that will outrage viewers. The test is how one interprets von Trier's motives. One side could argue that he is a heartless bastard who revels in cruelty. On the contrary, I think that he is very much a religious filmmaker given to depicting the harsh realities of life and hinting at a greater reward that follows. DANCER IN THE DARK'S Selma talks about leaving musicals after the next to last song so that the film can go on forever. At the end of the film, von Trier places a message over the frame, something about this not having to be the last song if we don't want it to be, while the shot pedestals up. It's plainly evident to me this time that the shot indicates an ascension and the message lays out that faith in God allows us to leave after the next to last song.

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