If nothing else, The Dancer shows that first-time writer/director Stéphanie Di Giusto has a great flair for visuals. This very sumptuous looking film is a grand evocation of Paris during the Belle Epoque.
Mono-monikered French singer-songwriter, musician and actress Soko plays real-life American dancer Loie Fuller, who caused a sensation in Paris with her innovative routines. Dressed in massive flowing silk outfits with long sleeves attached to poles extending from her arms, she swirled on stage amid coloured lights and mirrors, her giant sleeves billowing to mesmerising effect.
According to the Di Giusto’s script, based on art historian Giovanni Lista’s novel, Fuller’s private life was no less sensational. Courted persistently by the dashing, aristocratic Louis (an ether-inhaling Gaspard Ulliel), who funded her artistic pursuits, Loie preferred the charms of another American dancer, Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp), a kind of protegee of Loie’s, in an All About Eve kind of way. This is one of those doomed romance stories where everyone wants someone they can’t have, much to the detriment of their well being.
The Dancer is an absolute feast for the eyes. The extraordinary costumes and set designs are beautifully captured by Benoit Debie’s lush cinematography, accentuating the deep blue and red hues favoured by the fashions of the day.
There’s also a panoply of great French acting talent on display, representing the new wave and a few almost new faces. Ulliel is slyly seductive as always, and the very versatile Melanie Thierry delivers another strong performance as a harried Folies Bergère stage manager. Soko leaves a big impression in the physically demanding title role, which along with her turn in another AFFFF 2017 title The Stopover leaves no doubt to her considerable talents. Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of screen royalty Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, displays the kind of screen presence you’d expect from such an exceptional beauty.
The Dancer doesn’t make a great effort to explain much about Fuller’s early life in America. We’re left to fill in the blanks much of the time, and much of what we see is pure invention. It’s not a film that’s big on historical accuracy, or psychological depth for that matter.
Di Giusto’s m.o. seems to be to thrill and dazzle us with visuals, in much the same way as Fuller’s dance routines did back at the turn of the century. On this score she excels with flying colours.
Pre-existing music by Max Richter and Aussies Nick Cave and Warren Ellis adds to the sensory experience.
The Dancer is in national release from September 28.
This review was first published in March 2017 when The Dancer screened at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival
Richard Leathem @dickiegee