The Sound of Björk’s Music, 1er juillet 2000

Bjork’s harrowing performance in Dancer in the Dark explains a lot about why the novice actress has sworn off acting.

A pop star in her native Iceland since the age of 11, Bjork Gudmundsdottir is a rare breed : a genuine artist who has managed to charm an international audience and sell millions of records despite her fiercely experimental approach to music, frequently bizarre fashion statements, and personal anarchist leanings. For years she has been beloved by the alterna-set (beginning with her band the Sugarcubes way back in 1988) and now, after winning the Best Actress Award at Cannes, the jet set : Both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar recently ran tributes to her sense of style. For Dancer in the Dark’s premiere at Cannes, Bjork arrived with co-star Catherine Deneuve, dressed in a pink gown which resembled nothing so much as a foldout tissue-paper holiday decoration.

Don’t be misled by the "fairy-like" image, though. During a recent interview in New York (wearing, one might add, a blue-fur hair ornament and satin slippers), Bjork admits that behind the "la-la-la" persona lurks a "practical, functional, organized person. I do work very hard. I have a computer and a studio and [I work] every day, all the time. I’m actually quite flattered that people don’t see that side of me. I would rather look ’pixie-ish’ than like ... Bill Clinton or something," she chuckles.

This policy of giving her all, at all times, took a more extreme form with Bjork’s first film role, the character of Selma in Lars von Trier’s emotionally wrenching musical drama Dancer in the Dark. Portraying the Czech immigrant factory worker and mother who is going blind, Bjork surrendered herself so completely to the role - "every cell of me was literally Selma," she remembers - that she was able to improvise the majority of her lines, unrehearsed. A crucial scene in the film which was scripted as an act of rage on Selma’s part became one of compassion during an improvised take.

For an actress this would be exhausting, but as the composer of the film’s music as well, Bjork found the situation unmanageable. "I was basically playing two roles," she recalls. "I’d been there filming every day for months, having four nervous breakdowns a day and then I’d collapse and be all bloody and I’d come in in the evening and the crew had chopped up my tunes. They’d took five bars out of something that took me like a month to do and just glued it somewhere and it was like, eeeeeeee !" Finally, after she stormed off the set and demanded the right to produce the final mix of her own songs, Bjork’s compositions were returned to their original form. Within the film these "Selmasongs" (the title of the soundtrack) act as a valve, a respite from circumstances that keep worsening : Suddenly the colors get brighter, the sounds of passing trains or factory machinery more rhythmic, and before you know it everyone is singing and dancing. Given Selma’s reality these moments could be sickly comic, but Bjork’s truly enlightened presence and otherworldly music elevate the scenes to a spiritual level.

Catherine Deneuve, who plays Selma’s protector Kathy, notes, "If there hadn’t been the music for the character of Selma, some of the scenes would have been unbearable. The music allows the character of Selma to be in a fantastic world, and also brings things to another level where you can breathe a little. Even people who have the most difficult lives ... there is always a time in their life when they dream."

Actor David Morse, whose character, Bill, ultimately betrays Selma, continues, "There is no Selma without the music. There is no movie without it. It’s who she is, and it’s how she deals with her life. The same way that the movie is transcendent because of the music, she also transcends her life."

It’s hard to believe that anyone besides Bjork was ever considered for the part of Selma, but she was in fact initially hired as a composer. Von Trier repeatedly asked her to take the role, and she eventually gave in. "At that point I’d gotten to know this woman so well," she says, "that it didn’t feel like it would be acting for me ; it felt just like loving her or protecting her ... It was sort of an extension of my songs." Oddly enough, part of this very personal process was singing lyrics that had been written by Von Trier and Sjon, a poet friend of Bjork’s, rather than herself. She explains, "I did three solo albums in a row in the space of five years and they were all about me and they felt quite narcissistic. I was ready to give myself over to something else. I had this hunger to get really academic and maybe use more of my classical education on the project. But I wanted it emotionally to be someone else’s."

Contrary to what one might expect, this had nothing to do with the infamous on-set tension between the director and his star. In fact, part of the reason she agreed to do press at all was to dispel the rumors that had been circulating. "I didn’t do any press for nine months because I don’t believe in spilling out secrets of the creative process," she states, "but then I just thought I had to defend it because of this whole drama about how difficult it was on set and people eating clothes and stuff." She raises an eyebrow, adding, "I’m like, sorry ?" Bjork obviously respects Von Trier’s talent and is proud of the pioneering work they created together, though she adds, almost as an aside, "I think at the heart of him he’s Napoleon ; he’s not really a hippie, you know. But he’s sweet, because he gets a lot of points for trying. He really wants to be a free spirit, you know. He swallows his Prozac and says, ’Hey, let’s improvise.’"

When the first-time film actress accepted one of the top honors at Cannes this past summer she made the shocking announcement that she would never act again. Whether she intends to stand by that decision is clearly still the million dollar question - and one she is still working through. "I don’t think so," she offers cautiously, "but I want to make sure that that’s not because of this film. Before the film I was never going to act ; I was going to devote my life to music. It was more like, because there was such a creative smell in the air I made an exception and did this. But I feel I wanna go back to my musical nest. Also, after 20 years of experimenting and learning it’s where I can be at my most generous."

Spoken like a true hippie.

par Steffie Nelson publié dans