The Dancer is an unusual story about achievement, heartbreak and pain. This period film concerns a dancer who rewrote the rule book.
Born in the American Midwest, nothing in her background destined farm girl Loïe Fuller (Soko) to become the toast of Europe’s Belle Epoque cabarets. But – hidden behind metres of silk, her arms extended by long wooden rods – Loïe reinvented her body on stage. She dazzled her audiences a little more every night with her revolutionary Serpentine dance. Loïe became an icon; the blazing symbol of a generation. Eminent admirers like Toulouse-Lautrec, the Lumière Brothers and Rodin fell at her feet.
Even if the physical effort risked destroying her back, even if the glare of the stage lights seared her eyes, she would never falter in the quest to perfect her art. But her meeting with Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp) – a young prodigy hungry for glory – would lead to the downfall of this early 20th century icon.
Co-written and directed by Stephanie Di Giusto, The Dancer began when she saw a black-and-white photo of a dancer hidden in swirling veils and floating above the ground, captioned: “Loïe Fuller: icon of the Belle Epoque”. Di Giusto was curious about the woman behind the long swathes of fabric and intrigued by her story. She loved the fact that Fuller became famous by concealing herself and was taken by her trailblazing nature. Fuller revolutionised stage arts at the end of the 19th century, yet almost no one remembers her.
Soko (Her) gives an enigmatic characterisation of Fuller. Her quirks and the indulgence of her wealthy admirer Le Comte Louis d’Orsay (Gaspard Ulliel – Saint Laurent) provide most intrigue in the picture.
You can truly say that compromise was not a word in Fuller’s vocabulary – she did things her way. Naturally, she met many obstacles, but inevitably found a way through. Di Giusto populates her film with artsy types – arrogant, petulant and competitive – as is appropriate to its subject matter.
Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis), who previously appeared in Yoga Hosers and Tusk, makes a strong impression as Duncan, a youngster who used her feminine wiles to get her way.
Mélanie Thierry (A Perfect Day) provides an air of mystery as Fuller’s loyal offsider, Gabrielle Bloch. In fact, her role is relatively one-dimensional and I would have liked to have learnt more about her.
A movie for the art house crowd, The Dancer certainly leaves a lasting impression. Rated M, it scores a 7 to 7½ out of 10.
Director: Stéphanie Di Giusto
Cast: Soko, Lily-Rose Depp, Gaspard Ulliel
Release Date: 28 September 2017
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television