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by Andrew Howe

"Dances to an unusual beat"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: If you like your art-house fare to be impeccably acted, morbidly atmospheric and utterly impenetrable, then French director Pierre Trividic and his friends have a film for you. Ballroom (a.k.a. Dancing) could have been a contender, but the failure of the scriptwriters to realise that a coherent narrative is not necessarily the enemy of the independent filmmaker results in an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying foray into the twisted depths of the human psyche.

The plot, such as it is, centres on reclusive artist Ren� Bernard (Patrick-Mario Bernard), who spends his days in an abandoned ballroom broadcasting ridiculous creations to his patron Maurice (Jean-Yves Jouannais) via a webcam, and his nights giving pep-talks to his insecure live-in lover Patrick (Pierre Trividic). Things take a turn for the worse when Ren� leafs through a magazine and discovers a picture of a couple of bizarre performance artists, and before you can say �paranoid delusions� he starts receiving visitations from a mirror-image of himself, complete with a dress and big floppy bow in its hair. From there the film works its way to an arresting but incomprehensible conclusion, and it�s a testament to the efforts of all concerned that the film doesn�t lose you until sixty seconds before the closing credits roll.

Bernard and Trividic bring their not-inconsiderable talents to bear on the protagonists, and the result is an unsettling portrait of Gallic stoicism. The raging seafront and windswept streets that border the lovers� drab and uninviting homestead is reflected in their relationship � whatever spark there may have been is long gone, leaving a cheerless union that brings to mind a couple of drowning men clutching at a lifeline constructed from shared experience and mild affection. Sex has become little more than an automatic response, Patrick�s a candidate for a bathtub and a razor if he could only work up the courage, and the only question mark over Ren��s mental problems is why they took so long to arrive. It�s a deeply disturbing meditation on the long, hard road to emotional ruin, and on the evidence at hand I�d suggest that the leads might have found fame and fortune if they�d been around when Bergman was plying his trade.

I have no idea why it took three directors to make the film, but since two of them are Bernard and Trividic I think we can safely assume they�ve simply decided to share the credit. Their acting talent is matched by their skill behind the camera, which was evidently sourced from a steady diet of Lynch and Fincher. Most of the scenes are played out in semi-darkness, and the camera rarely moves to the exterior unless there�s a suitably grey sky overhead. If you�re going to lose your mind then a decrepit ballroom is the place to do it, and when you throw in the inevitable bumps in the night, lunatics in the cellar and the kind of dancing usually practised in a padded cell you�ve got an effort that should have been a case study in low-budget psychological terror.

Except it isn�t, because the scriptwriters (our old friends Bernard and Trividic) are more concerned with creating a visual feast than a memorable storyline. I don�t think I�m entirely bereft of intelligence, but I have no idea what�s going on in the second half of the film. Either (a) Ren��s visions are simply indicative of his deteriorating sanity; in which case the script lacks substance (it might be atmospheric, but we�ve seen it all before); or (b) Ren� is peeking into a parallel universe, in which case the notion isn�t developed to a sufficient degree to make it worth our while. There�s no getting away from the fact that nothing much actually happens for the film�s 94 minute duration, and when the anticipated payoff fails to materialise it�s only natural that a certain degree of frustration will be directed at those responsible.

Memorable performances and a dank, unsettling atmosphere make Ballroom a promising debut for Bernard and Trividic, but their decision to ignore the audience when penning the script will need to be re-evaluated if they want to craft a film that�ll break free of the festival circuit. See it for the talent on display, but be ready for the sound of your screams when the final scene fades to black.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7881&reviewer=193
originally posted: 06/19/03 02:46:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

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8/01/03 Double G Whay! 1 stars
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