LA DANSEUSE (THE DANCER) (France/Belgium/Czech 2016) **
Directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto
A 2016 French biographical musical drama film based on the true story, directed and written by Stéphanie Di Giusto and co-written by Thomas Bidegain and Sarah Thiebaud, based on the novel by Giovanni Lista, LA DANSEUSE opens with the film’s subject and protagonist carried away after what looks like an injury during a dance. This scene is returned to at the film’s halfway mark after she collapses from her first performance.
Director Di Giusto then takes her audience back to the dancer’s early days before she began her dance career, which is assumed must be a famous one. Loie Fuller (Soko) is revealed as a rebellious teen taken in by her stern mother after her alcoholic father dies. Loie promises to be obedient and not cause trouble which translates in movie terms that she will be disobedient and cause trouble. Besides posing nude and starring on stage, she finds her calling as a dancer, though what occurs on screen does not seem credible. One assumes what occurs must be true as the film is based on a true story. Di Giusto uses that as carte blanche to bring in whatever she likes and portray the incidents however she deems suitable. The result is a rather rough film, with too many incidents inserted inappropriately leaving the narrative disjointed.
Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp) is Loie’s dance peer. Her appearance might eclipse Loie’s story, but Di Guisto keeps that in check. Still it is hard to like Loie’s character. Di Giusto shows her as strong willed, stubborn to perform at risk of her personal health, self destructive and one who never accepts authority. Loie comes off as an unlikeable character no matter how dedicated she is to her art. As for the choreography with flowing dresses, it is quite different from ballet or modern dance and is a style in itself, taking a while to get used to.
The film is oddly shot in French and quite a bit in English. The mother is English while the father is French, which is assumed the reason. LA DANSEUESE is a period piece set in France and the period atmosphere and costumes show it. The film won the Cesar for Best costume Design (by Anais Romand).
The most famous of the cast is Gaspard Ulliel who always looks dashing in this case playing Loie’s romantic interest.
The film is an ok biography which is keen to reveal the (anti-feminist) prejudice of the times and travails the main subject went through. Di Giusto makes no attempt to make any of her characters likeable from Loie, to Isadora Duncan and to lover Louis and her other lesbian lover, Gabrielle (Mélanie Thierry). The result is a difficult film to like.
LA DANSEUSE was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. It took a year before finally released here, and might be worth a look if one likes period drama with some dancing added in for good measure. The film was nominated for several Cesar and Lumiere Awards, including nods for Best First Feature and acing (main and supporting) roles.