LA DANSEUSE/ THE DANCER, France, 2016. Starring Soko (Stephanie Sokoilinski), Gaspard Ulliel, Melanie Thierry, Lily-Rose Depp, François Damiens, Louis-Do de Lenquesaing, Amanda Plummer, Dennis Menochet. Directed by Stephanie Di Giusto. 108 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, sex and nudity)
The Danseuse/ Dancer of the title is Mary Louise Fuller who came from the American West, out there with her French prospector father, roping the cattle at a rodeo yet with an interest in dance. When her father is killed by men who think he has found gold, as he has boasted, there is nothing left for her to do but return to mother (Amanda Plummer), a staunch member now of the Temperance League, in Brooklyn. It is 1892.
However, this is really a Parisien story. The young Mary Louise does do auditions for dance in New York – although at first she finishes up at a photo studio of suggestive pictures – but has a talent for sketching and designing elaborate dance movements. She auditions, dances. A rather decadent French count befriends her – but she takes his money, leaving a note, and sailing to Paris.
Soko (stage name for dancer, Stephanie Sokolinski) is a very good choice for Mary Louise who changes her name to Loie. She is physically strong, continually exercising, enabling her to perform dance movements which take a toll on her body. Undeterred, she makes an impression at the Folies Bergere and is hired for performance.
Part of the attractiveness of the film is seeing her perform, metres and metres of diaphanous material, her ability to swirl them, athletically moving but aesthetically beautiful, audiences and reviewers likening her performance to flowers.
There are complications in her personal life. She collapses at the Folies Bergere but recovers. Gabrielle (Melanie Thierry) becomes her assistant, friend and confidante, supportive in management. And the count, Gaspard Ulliard, divorces his American wife and returns to Paris, devoted to Loie and she, in complicated ways, devoted to and dependent on him.
But her ambition is to do her dancing at the Paris Opera and, despite the initially snobbish reactions of the director, she is given permission to perform. More and more material, more and more mirrors, more and more lighting, more and more costs.
A further complication in the plot arrives in the form of the young Lily-Rose Depp as Isadora Duncan (whom many audiences may remember far more than Loie especially through documentaries and the feature film which starred Vanessa Redgrave in 1968). Instead of seeing Isadora as a rival, which in her scheming way and ingratiating manner, she is, Loie allows herself to be seduced by Isadora.
There is a physical and emotional toll on Loie , her having to wear dark glasses to protect her eyes, a brace to protect her shoulders, a collapse of. Nerves.
Will Loie triumph at the Paris Opera?
2016 saw another very interesting film about theatre in Paris at this time, Monsieur Chocolat, the comedy in mime of a black comedian with a white comedian and the surfacing of racial issues of time.
Palace Films Release September 28th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.