The Bolshoi

‘The Bolshoi’ Film Review: Russian Resurrection Film Festival

This is how you make a film about dance.

The Bolshoi is a film about the ballet and its director, Valery Todorovskiy, dances with his camera. There is so much graceful movement in the way this movie is filmed, it’s clear that Todorovskiy understands the poetry of movement: to ensure the audience is swept up in the art of ballet, the camera must also be a part of the dance. Otherwise, why make a movie about dancing? When you watch modern American dance movies (Step Up, You Got Served) the camera is either static, so the performers can show off, or slashed to pieces with quick jump cuts. The dancing here is part of the filmmaking. That the film also has an engaging story feels like an added bonus.

14-year-old Yulia (Ekaterina Samuilina) is a ballet dancer with what her mentor calls a ‘tremendous leap’. She auditions for a prestigious ballet school and, while she mouths off and almost gets rejected from the audition, her dancing earns her a place. We see Yulia at the school as a pre-teen and as a young adult, played by Margarita Simonova. There is an evolution in the two actresses’ dancing styles, as young Yulia employs a kind of comic style, using her gangly, puppet-like limbs to hypnotic effect, and the older Yulia, having been strictly reprimanded to follow the school’s etiquette, conveys a fierce intensity, as if she’s trying to channel all the hormonal rage of late teenage life into her dancing, even if she can’t quite conceal her wild side.

Yulia’s talent is soon noticed by Beletskaya (Alisa Frendlich). The aging, once-great dance teacher shares with Yulia that her mental state is in severe decline. Though she is stern and unforgiving, Beletskaya doesn’t fall into familiar harsh-but-inspiring-mentor territory. There are scenes in which we see her expel a student with little more than the wave of a hand, at which point the young girl crawls over to Beletskaya, crying and begging to stay so she won’t have to tell her parents. This scene is skewed by Beletskaya losing a pair of earrings during a mental lapse. In the film, each character is broadly drawn to show their relationship to ballet.

Really, what makes The Bolshoi such a breathtaking and immersive experience (especially for me, whose knowledge of the ballet amounts to what Darren Aronofsky crammed into Black Swan) is its cinematic depiction of a stage-based performance art. If you watch carefully, you’ll see that the camera is always moving with the character in the frame, whether they’re climbing a ladder, moving across the room or dancing on stage. Combine this seductive technique with the music of Tchaikovsky and the looming event of a Swan Lake performance, and you get a film worthy of the art it depicts.

  • Tom

Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.

The Bolshoi is playing at the 2017 Russian Resurrection Film Festival, which runs from 9 – 19 November at ACMI. The venue is wheelchair accessible.

The Plus Ones were invited guests of Ned & Co.
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