The new documentary from veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman pirouettes into The Angelica January 29th and though a beautifully shot project it is one that will need a niche audience to enjoy. “La Danse - Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris” follows the production of seven ballets by the Paris Opera Ballet from rehearsal to planning to funding. The biggest concern is whether viewers can follow the film without a dance card.
Wiseman, who is very familiar with the Ballet, has a unique style of filming that his fans will appreciate but will cause the average movie goer to scoff. It is best to put aside the way you normally approach a movie and instead go in to it as a fly on the wall. Unlike the normal documentary where you are allowed the luxury of voiceover and some sort of explanation of who is who, in this you are literally thrown into the mix with little to go on. You quickly find yourself watching a prima ballerina being coached and instructed but for what you have no idea. And that is fine. It was interesting watching the tedious attention to detail and the repetition that they do for every little move. After a while you sort of understand that the “how comes” are not as important as the visual.
Wiseman compares it to reading a good novel. He doesn’t need the writer to take the time to explain why he created the characters or what they are doing. He would rather them play out in front of him. So it is with this style of filming. It goes back to the fly on the wall scenario. If you allow yourself the freedom you sort of get the idea that you are spying on a very private moment and gone is the distraction of unnecessary dialogue and narration. Though you are allowed English subtitles to go along with the French speaking you almost don’t need it. Fans of the ballet will get the most from this as they are more apt to recognize some of the productions. The Nutcracker is the most familiar of course but you get a glimpse into many more. Plus those in the dance circle will certainly recognize more of the members, dancers, and choreographers.
Wiseman shot 30 hours of footage that he personally edited down to the two and a half hours we see here. No agenda, no preconceived idea. He simply went in and shot and what he creates is a beautiful framed film that is as visually moving as a well planned dance. Certainly not for everyone and only the die hard fans of Wiseman and the art will walk away pleased. But if you are in the mood for style over structure and want something other than the mainstream this is certainly the film for you.
To hear the full audio interview with Frederick Wiseman click here.