Part of the French Film Festival, THE DANCER is exquisitely, lushly photographed with some sensational performances. A feast for the eyes, it is fascinating for those who love dance, even if the film is heavily fictionalised. Some of the film is in English, at other times it is in French with subtitles.
Stéphanie Di Giusto’s film follows the life of avant- garde dancer Loie Fuller (Soko) who was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, lived with her father in the boondocks, and after his sudden tragic death was sent to live with her strict, God fearing mother in New York before becoming a sensation in the world of dance, first in New York and then in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, inspiring artists the like of Toulouse- Lautrec and Rodin and esteemed scientists such as Marie Curie.
The film also tells the story of her relationship and rivalry with Isadora Duncan, a fellow American who at one stage was Fuller’s protégé.
What we see is Fuller’s fierce dedication to her art and how this badly affected her body – the punishing physical regime she forced on herself, the injuries she suffered, and how sometimes she could barely stand – yet alone dance. We also see how incredibly ambitious, creative and intelligent she was. Fuller was way ahead of her time in many ways including in her lighting and stage designs.
Soko as Fuller was luminous, giving an extraordinary, ravishing performance .
We also see, sadly, how she was terribly treated by the men in her life. While in New York she meets ether sniffing, handsome and charismatic French aristocrat, Louis, Comte D”Orsay (Gaspard Ulliel), who eventually becomes her ticket and entrée to work in Paris and establish a meteoric career as the famous Loïe.
We also see performances by her both at the Folies Bergere (under the direction of manager Marchand and his working partner Gabrielle) and the Paris Opera.
We see how Fuller had a troupe of girls working with her – the Fullerets – and how she trained them, in some ways prefiguring the ‘Isadorables’.
The period atmosphere and visuals with the fabulous costumes was stunning. There were some glorious landscape shots and we see Fuller’s love of nature (as provided by cinematographer Benoît Debie. The recreation of her dancing with the rippling, flowing, billowing silks was enthralling .Duncan’s idiosyncratic rather looser, freer dancing was also depicted.
Duncan is presented by Elfin Depp, who looks like a Botticelli angel, as ambitious, scheming and manipulative. It is interesting to see a movie that depicts a female sexuality both accepting of yet repulsed by men and alternately infatuated with women.There is an extraordinary garden scene between Fuller and Duncan.
As a stunningly photographed film about a dancer’s quest for beauty and perfection in her art, THE DANCER was magnificent .
Running time 108 minutes.
THE DANCER is screening as part of the current French Film Festival.