New York — ``Dancing in the Dark'' is the diary of a mad and murderous housewife, narrated from an angry feminist perspective that sees her -- with some justice -- as not just a villain, but a victim as well. Edna is her name and housekeeping is her obsession. Much of the film is a chronicle of her daily life: a round of sanitary chores, punctuated by tedious dinner conversations and sexual encounters with her husband.
What drives her so hard? She seems to consider her housewifely role a matter of duty to her husband and herself. But there's little satisfaction in it. After a rigorous day's work, one of her most pointed reactions is a nagging fear that some spot of dust may have been missed -- and is lurking this very minute in the back of a closet or under a sofa, somehow disturbing the balance and rightness of her world.
We learn all this from flashbacks and from passages in Edna's journal. In the movie's present-tense scenes, however, we find that she's not living in her scrupulously kept home anymore. She's in an institution -- a mental hospital, it turns out -- recovering from some traumatic event that has deprived her of speech. As we see more of her past life and hear more of her own thoughts, we guess the awful truth long before the movie shows it to us: Edna has killed her husband as a final, irreversible rebellion against the life she lived and loathed for so many years.
This sort of territory has been covered in earlier movies, including Chantal Akerman's epic ``Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,'' which also used an act of violence as an ultimate, grisly metaphor. ``Dancing in the Dark'' would be a stronger polemic if its heroine weren't such an extreme figure -- so crazily determined to be the perfect homemaker that she becomes more a caricature than a character. Yet her numbingly repeated tasks vividly symbolize a life that's in the process of scrubbing itself down the drain. And it's hard to shake off the spell of Edna's voice as it recites the words of her diary in a sad attempt to fathom and explain the events that have enveloped her.
``Dancing in the Dark,'' which hails from Canada, is the first feature by Leon Marr, who shows great skill in weaving Edna's experiences -- past and present, interior and exterior -- into a seamless narrative web.