Two documentarist go behind the scenes as Benjamin Millepied takes creative control of the Paris Opera Ballet and attempts to change the institution's ingrained culture while rehearsing the premiere of a new ballet with some of the company's rising talents.
Known to film fans for this work as both dancer and choreographer on Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan — during the making of which he met wife Natalie Portman – 37 year-old Benjamin Millepied was appointed dance director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 2014. He replaced Brigitte Lefèvre, during whose 20-year tenure Frederick Wiseman had studied the corps in La Danse. But, just as Millepied seemed determined to sweep away the outdated vestiges of the ancien regime at the Palais Garnier, so documentarists Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai appear bent on consigning observational cinema to the stylistic dustbin, as they clutter the screen with bright yellow captions and impose a 39-day countdown on their fussy and superficial backstage exposé, which careens manically in pursuit of conflicts and crises that simply fail to materialise.
After 16 years with the New York City Ballet, Millepied has big plans for modernising the Opera corps. But he scarcely has time to tilt at windmills as he prepares for the debut of Nico Mulhy's 33-minute ballet, Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, which Millepied has left himself just over a month to choreograph, rehearse and polish. Demaizière and Teurlai spend considerable time shuffling between offices, cafés and dance studios as Millepied juggles administrative chores with spurts of creativity. But they decide against exploring the narrative or thematic aspects of the piece to concentrate on Millepied working his show-and-tell magic on his young ensemble. Given their access, the co-directors could have captured a dance masterclass. But they ignore the lessons of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly about presenting dancers in full figure in mannered (often slow-motion) montages that allow the cuts to sap the kinetic energy out of the gyrating bodies and the camera striving to match their rhythms
Ruinously prioritising chic over content, this is intellectually and stylistically shallow when it should have been dynamic and compelling.