La Danseuse, translating to 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. Mostly in French, you could nevertheless consider The Dancer a ‘soft’ foreign film with the first third of the story taking 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. 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 blur 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 was said to have had an affair with Loïe Fuller. I 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 her star power. But this casting decision didn’t work well in my view, as they age the character down. 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, not to mention long! The casting of a slightly older actress (especially with the ability to dance) would have driven the main romantic plot 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 in my eyes.
All up, while I am certainly glad to see the French film industry promoting a female filmmaker in Di Giusto, as well as stories about women and otherness, The Dancer seems somewhat formulaic. Perhaps I just had enough of Lily-Rose Depp’s body double getting all the screen-time. Nonetheless, it is films like these that trail blaze for more original, diverse stories told through this medium – hopefully by diverse filmmakers.
The Dancer was presented at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival and is being featured during the upcoming Alliance Français French Film Festival.