I’m guessing you either loved this film, or really, really hated it. I loved it. I think. Damn, what a hard movie to watch!
Lars von Trier, bless his indie heart, takes on a musical. The hand-held camera, the stilted dialogue, the choppy editing – all part of this artiste’s vision. Or his technique, I guess – his vision is a rather dark take on The American Dream. (Note: I’ve never seen any of von Trier’s other films – a friend told me Breaking the Waves would make me want to slit my wrists and made me promise never to watch it.)
I’m not gonna summarize the plot in detail – just say that as Selma’s life becomes more and more intolerable, the fantasy life she substitutes for it becomes more and more vivid. The first 50 minutes or so of this musical features not a single song or dance. (Oops, no, that’s not right – it opens with the Sound of Music rehearsal, doesn’t it?) The first actual number, in the factory, is pretty well tied to reality – we see (more or less) her fellow workers dancing around the huge machines. (I’ve gotta say, I was spoiled by the primal experience of watching Fred Astaire’s numbers, always showing the dancers from head to toe and with the camera swinging along in a smooth flow. I find the choppy modern body bits shooting and editing of dance scenes annoying as hell – show me what the dancers are doing, dammit!) The second number, on the train (the main one I remembered after the only other time I’d seen this film, three or four years ago) starts to drift from reality a little more – who are the men, and where did they come from? And then, after the murder, it all becomes just a technicolor blur. The trial scene – ah, I loved Joel Grey coming in and tap-dancing on the witness box. (The prosecutor looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him, and his name, Zeljko Ivanek, made it seem unlikely I knew him – but it turns out he played the DA in Homicide.)
Sheesh, I’ve got to get to work – wanted to work on the OP last night, but everyone was on IM – let me just bullet point a couple of things:
[li]Was Selma supposed to be “retarded”? (Sorry – what’s the polite term these days?) Was her boyfriend? Was her son?[/li][li]I loved the scene when Selma and Cathy were in the movies, the second time, and the Busby Berkley film was playing, and Cathy takes Selma’s hand and “shows” her the dancing, then kisses her hand. A lovely moment.[/li][li]The point seemed to be that everyone loved Selma (because of her childlike innocence?) – was I alone in not being beguiled by her?[/li][li]What should we make of the framing device of the amateur production of The Sound of Music?[/li][/ul]
Here is Ebert’s review.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten something major I wanted to say – I’ll be back!