La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (Frederick Wiseman, 2009)
The best documentary of last year (and again this year, Filmspot-wise) is probably a better celebration of the human body in motion than Riefenstahl's Olympia. Totally unexpected from Wiseman, too, who I think has more a reputation for a critical eye for a look of wonder. The long takes are wonderfully immersive, but also very conducive to getting lost in thought about various unspoken and undirected themes. Standout scenes include one particular rehearsal of a pas de deux and the exqusitely filmed performance of Medea and her children. Art from art.
It has been a while since pix wrote this, but somehow, I remembered that he loved the film, which was all the motivation I needed go and see this on the big screen today. I believe the Sunday matinee screening was the perfect setting for this, too. Unfortunately, I missed the first six or seven minutes because I had to dig my car out from under a pile of snow - considering that this film has a runtime of 159 minutes, that doesn't seem like much, but I am sorry for every moment that I missed, because the rest of the film is a thing of beauty.
I am not a documentary person AT ALL, so I don't even know how common or rare it is to present a subject matter completely without commentary or narration, without interviews, without any kind of narrative. This style of filmmaking seemed perfect for the subject of dance: nothing distracts you while you are observing these people during rehearsals and in performance, and thus, nothing distracts from the amazing artistry, control, dedication, strength, poise and grace that is on display here.
I wonder how much footage Wiseman shot for this film - apart from the many fascinating rehearsal and performance scenes, you also catch a glimpse of the business side of running a ballet company, and there were a few extremely interesting moments in there as well. But it's not only what
Wiseman shot, also how
he shot it - he has an amazing eye for locations in and around the building, and for camera placement and framing during the many dance sequences.
This film may not be for everyone because it does require a little patience and the willingness to be immersed in the world of ballet, but I think it's obvious that I really loved it.