by Carla Freccero
review aired 2/17/04 and 2/18/04.
Now playing at the Nick in Santa Cruz, The Company is the latest
Robert Altman film. Altman has made many many and some very
odd moviesGosford Park, Dr T & the Women, Cookies
Fortune, Jazz, Prêt-à-Porter, etc. and of course
made my generation sit up and pay attention with three films
coming out fast in 1970 and 1971: MASH, Brewster McCloud, and
McCabe & Mrs. Miller. This film has none of the edginess
of those others, nor the cameo appearances by stars were
so used to being surprised by, except, of course, if you really
know your stuff in the world of ballet. But what it does have
is beauty, color, an appreciation for the de-individualized
collectivity that usually gets underrepresented in portraits
of ballet dancers, a real dance company and dancersthe
Joffrey Balletand moments when the dance takes you out
of the world and into the sublime.
Neve Campbell, co-producer/writer of the film and an ex-dancer
who trained for two years to play this role, stars as Ry, a
new arrival to the company who is being groomed for great parts.
Shes plausible in all except the first of the scenes,
where she seems to replace another ballerina (because the other
dancer has a neck spasm) in rehearsal for the pas de deux she
will eventually perform on an open-air stage as a thunderstorm
begins to stir. In the studio, the dancers practice a series
of two particularly beautiful lifts in the dancechoreographed
by Lars Lubovitch to the song, "My Funny Valentine"and
one cannot help but notice the contrast between the "real
ballerinas graceful alternations of tension and relaxation
and Campbells muscular stiffness. But the performance
per se works remarkably well. Malcolm McDowell plays company
director Alberto Antonelli and, though nicely extravagant, comic,
and warm, his English accent seems to jar with his reputed Italian
American origins. The third actual actor here is James Dean
look alike James Franco as Josh, a sous-chef in a bistro who
falls for Ry and displays extraordinary devotion by cooking
her gourmet meals after a long nights work and good-naturedly
putting up with the fact that Ry introduces him neither to her
family nor to many of her friends.
Theres no story, really, at least not of the narrative
plot variety. This is a movie about a ballet company, about
a group of odd and oddly subdued mostly youngsters who live
and breathe the dance. The performance sequences are captivating,
though I have heard connoisseurs complain that the camera does
not occupy a properly respectful position from which to film
dance, jumping around as it does, at times shooting from angles
that make it difficult to watch the moves. But I was enchanted.
Though the movie is two hours long and none of the actors do
any serious acting, the moments when the continually rehearsed
athletic sequences turn into a dance succeed in reaching beyond
the mundane to achieve beauty that is both aching and sublime.
Strange how the bodies of ballet dancers, so exhaustively tended,
stretched, strengthened, disciplined, almost dissolve on stage
into the movement itself, becoming as abstract as I can imagine
a body being. Except, of course, when one of them is injured,
and here theres a moment that will have you wincing for
hours to come.
Critics complain that theres too much idealization going
on and that the narrative undercurrents are so virtual they
end up merely annoying the story-hungry viewer. Its true,
there are mere nods to AIDS, drug use, injury. No mention of
eating disorders (but thank goodness, since so many stories
about ballet are obsessed with this dimension of it). But I
think Altman was looking for something else, looking for the
way a group of peopleand in this film it doesnt
matter much whether they are men or womenbecome a single
organism or machine and subdue their very beings to become part
of something bigger. In that he succeeds admirably.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang,
this is Carla Freccero.