Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 2:29 pm 
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A distracted look at the Paris Opera

This Swiss/French documentary film, as the festival blurb says, "nimbly juggles a dizzying number of storylines," including strange staging of Schoenberg's Moses and Aron; bad press for the opera ballet director (who later resigned); a national strike that makes performances tricky;, the freshly hired young Russian bass-baritone Mikhail Timoshenko
- featured, understandably, in the trailer - he's photogenic and charming and could have been the subject of a documentary himself; a group of mostly black school kids who get several weeks of rehearsals of stringed instruments and a pubic performance attended by parents and a proud sponsor; an effort to replace a lead singer at the last minute; troubles with the blocking of a chorus; that chorus' director in action; some moments of ballet rehearsal; and on and on.

"Nibly" juggled, perhaps these various strains are. But there are too many of them. The director should have decided what he wanted to focus on. He seems too easily distracted, as for example, understandably, the director of the Opéra must give a speech after the November 2015 terrorist attacks. Since this film is meant to cover a single season and a half of the Paris Opera, and it included that time, reference to it needed to be there. But the details of using a giant bull in the staging of Moses and Aron is unnecessary. You have to ask yourself: was bringing this bull on the stage representative of the life of the Paris Opera? It just seems a novelty - and in the end how the bull appears in the finished production isn't even made clear. In fact, there is far too little footage of actual performances - the most essential, what this place is about, is badly underplayed. And some followups - the directorial resignation; how Mikhail Timoshenko's career has gone; he's been in many operas and recitals in he past couple years, the Opera's website shows, but he's left dangling by the distractible Blon.

Bron may feel he is doing something in the manner of Fred Wiseman, but he is not. He does not have Wiseman's dedication, thoroughness, and clarity. LOpeera doesn't hold up in comparison, in fact, with Wiseman's typically exhausting but highly rewarding 2009 documentary, La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet. That film too, in rather more detail, includes a labor dispute. It also has lengthy, and illuminating, segments of dance practice. It concludes at the end of its nearly two and a half hours a satisfying view of the finished public performance of the ballet we've been seeing worked on. Wiseman proceeds methodically. He dots his i's and crosses his t's. He moves around, but everything he looks at, he looks at long.

In view of the fact that he doesn't do that, but prefers to flit about, Blon might have provided more guidelines to viewers, such as text lines identifying certain figures in the film when they first appear, and when they reappear after a long interruption. And he might have provided an introduction that informed non-French viewers what the Paris Opera is, that it has two venues, L'Opéra Garnier and l'Opéra Bastille, and might have clarified the film's movements back and forth between them. This film will show you glimpses of the wonderful stuff that goes on at this essential cultural venue. But as a documentary film, it falls a bit short.

L'Opéra/The Paris Opera, 110 mins., debuts in French cinemas 5 Apr. 2017, distributed by Les Films du Losange. Jean-Stephane Bron is a Swiss writer and director who has nine previous directorial credits, mostly documentaries. Not listed yet on IMDb, slated according to AlloCiné for French theatrical release 5 Apr. 2017. L'Opéra was screened for this review as part of the 1-12 Mar. 2017 Film Society of Lincoln Center-Unifrance series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.
Thursday, March 2, 4:00pm
Saturday, March 11, 3:30pm

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