A portrait of revolutionary dancer Loie Fuller, Stephanie Di Giusto’s La Danseuse makes for a disappointingly pedestrian biopic.
Dancer In The Darkby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
La Danseuse is based on the true story of Loie Fuller, little known now, but in her time a pioneer of modern interpretative dance and theatrical lighting techniques. In this lack-lustre biopic, she is played by indie-musician-turned-actor Soko (the star of Alice Winocour’s Augustine). Though Fuller was revolutionary in her time, the film lacks insight into what drove her or what special quality made her so celebrated in her time. In fact, the impression it gives limits her to a one-trick pony, not really a dancer but someone who swirled to classical music in flowing robes. And what we see of her dancing is so truncated that its appeal remains a mystery, though perhaps in its historical context, it seemed much more spectacular than it does now.
The film starts interestingly enough with her early life in the American West, which she leaves when her father, a French rodeo rider, is shot. There’s a striking image of the blood pouring from the bullet holes in his tin bath. Fuller spends her time reading Oscar Wilde’s Salome and longing to become an actress, but where this ambition comes from is never explained. She flees to New York, where her disapproving mother is living in a religious community.
Whilst performing, she attracts the attention of an ether-sniffing French count (Gaspard Ulliel, star of the Bertrand Bonello biopic Saint Laurent), who becomes her life-long patron – first of all in America and then again when he finds her once she has installed herself in Paris, in the process of trying to realise her ambition to perform at the Opera. Using his chateau, she sets up a kind of dance school to train her supporting performers and as a result meets her emotional and artistic nemesis in the graceful and talented shape of her protegee, a manipulative Isadora Duncan (a rather lifeless Lily-Rose Depp).
It’s the first film for director Stephanie Di Giusto, who also wrote the screenplay. Fuller’s influence on Art Nouveau was crucial. She was the toast of the Folies Bergères at the turn of the 20th century and an inspiration for Toulouse-Lautrec and the Lumière Brothers, but we see little of this, which seems a missed opportunity to inject vivacity and colour into a rather dull and ploddingly constructed film.
La Danseuse is now showing at the Cannes Film Festival