Dancers, the Danish winner of the film festival’s Best Director award, appears on the surface as a conventional love story between two lonely people finding solace in each other’s company, and it’s certainly not the most original movie you’ll watch this year.
What sets “Dancers apart from similar European dramas is director/writer Pernille Fischer Christensen’s treatment that interweaves the notion of forgiveness, social norms and guilt into the equation.
Yet the most remarkable aspect of the film is Trine Dyrholm’s performance, easily the best by any actress I’ve seen all year. Yes, superior even to Yolande Moreau’s best actress winning performance in “Séraphine.
Dyrholm plays Annika, a dance instructor working in a school she and her mother own. Annika is a reserved woman living in a quiet Danish town where nothing much seems to happen.
Annika’s world is disrupted when tight-lipped, mysterious electrician Lasse (Anders W. Berthelsen) is hired for a small job in the school. Annika is almost immediately drawn to him, while he maintains his composure. He looks wounded, yet shuns any human contact.
She gradually manages to infiltrate his world and soon, he reveals he was jailed for raping an ex-lover. Lasse assures her that he was drunk, that he can’t remember most details of what happened that night.
Annika believes him, as their relationship intensifies. A few weeks later, she starts receiving anonymous phone calls implying that Lasse’s crime might be graver than his version of the story.
Consumed by fear yet unable to break free from the relationship, Annika embarks on a quest to discover the truth about what happened that night.
The basic premise of “Dancer might sound like a standard Hollywood thriller/horror, but it is far from it. The film is tender, embracing and beautifully shot. Annika has always led a calm, ordinary life. She’s always done the right thing, dated the right men and followed closely her domineering mother’s instructions.
Lasse represents this foreboding, dangerous terrain she’s never dared to set foot into before. Her fascination with this peculiar stranger hides a profound reality she can’t confront; the reality of a lonely woman who has never been truly loved before.
Lasse is essentially the flip side of the same coin. His reserve conceals a deep well of shame and guilt. Like Annika, he’s desperate for someone to reach him, yet his undying sense of remorse prevents him for taking on this newfound bliss, perhaps he believes he doesn’t deserve it.
In other words, Lasse, is a prisoner of his guilt, and his failure to confront his sin or adapt to his new life result in violent outbursts.
The pair’s tumultuous relationship is set against a contrasting picturesque, serene backdrop that embodies Annika’s isolated universe. One particular scene that sees Annika running towards the unknown (inspired by Jonathan Glazer’s monumental opening scene of “Birth ) is a clear reflection of her uncertainty, the ecstasy of finding a new love mixed with the fear of losing it.
The question Christensen forces Annika and the audience to face is this: Can you honestly forgive a person who has committed such a heinous crime? Can a man with a deformed soul change? Does he deserve a second chance?
These complex, clashing emotions are vividly reproduced in Dyrholm’s face, calculated gestures and her few expressive dance moves. Dyrholm is one of the greatest working actresses who, unfortunately, no one knows about.
She’s mostly known for Thomas Vinterberg 1999 groundbreaking “Festen (The Celebration). Her other notable works include “In Your Hands, “A Soap and the recently released “DeUsynlige.
The one actress I can compare Dyrholm to is great Swedish siren Liv Ullmann. Like Ullmann, Dyrholm channels a wide spectrum of emotions with few expressions in brief instances. She has full access to her various tools, knowing precisely what to show depending on the situation.
In the dance scenes, for example, she appears poised, in control of her calculated, predictable world. With the arrival of Lasse, she willingly drops her guise, desperate to bare her soul, to unleash every ounce of her repressed sentiments.
Her gradual descent into doubt, anger and confusion adds further dimensions to her already multifaceted character. There are several moments, especially during the final climax, where you’d want to pause the film in order to take in every emotion Dyrholm communicates.
“Dancers is the kind of film that grows on you, building up to a thought-provoking, poignant final act that will leave you equally shattered and elated.
The inclusion of the best version I’ve ever heard of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance ends the film on a perfect note.
All CIFF’s winning films are screening at the Cairo Opera House’s Artistic Creativity Center until next Tuesday.