The Dancer is a French biographical drama written and directed by newcomer Stéphanie Di Giusto. The film recounts the artistic life of modern dance pioneer Loïe Fuller (Soko) and her journey into the dance world of 19th Century Paris. The Dancer was presented at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival and is being featured during the upcoming French Film Festival. The Dancer could certainly be considered a ‘soft’-foreign film as the first third of the story takes place in America, thus deeming it slightly more accessible to those averse to subtitles.
The Dancer presents some compelling concepts regarding femininity and its intersection with gender and sexuality. In fact, this exploration is executed beautifully through Loïe’s constant search for desire and expression. Her vivid performances in which the camera dances along with her blurs into scenes containing feminine affection. In stark contrast, her sexual encounters with men feel fittingly uncomfortable. The scenes which sit outside of this exploration feel derivative of so many other period biopics.
Also featured in The Dancer is Lily-Rose Depp as Isadora Duncan who supposedly was said to have had an affair with Loïe Fuller. I completely understand the motive behind casting Depp as the American dancer and it is undeniable that she is breathtakingly beautiful and would widen the audience with ‘Star-Power’. But this casting decision was somewhat unfortunate, as they age down the character to her teens. If I’m not mistaken, Depp was in her mid-teens during the time of production and does not fill the role with any degree of complexity or sexuality. Furthermore, their use of a body double for all of Isadora’s dance sequences is distracting to say the least. Not to mention lo-ong! The casting of a slightly older actress (with the ability to dance) would have driven the main romantic crux of the film more compellingly.
Regardless, The Dancer looks and feels strikingly feminine. Production and costume design cement it in its cultural setting, making the film a joy to look at. Soko is clearly committed to playing Loïe, and her performance is palpably the strongest element of the film. With the addition of score provided by Max Richter, all of the emotional components are certainly there, although disconnected.
All up, The Dancer seems somewhat formulaic. I am certainly glad to see France promoting a female filmmaker in Di Giusto, as well as stories about women and otherness. Nonetheless, it is films like these that trail blaze for more original, diverse stories told through this medium – hopefully by diverse filmmakers. Perhaps I just had enough of Lily-Rose Depp’s body double getting all the screen-time.
The Melbourne French Film Festival is on the 8th-30th of March
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