The Tango Lesson 1997 Directed by Sally Potter. A semi-autobiographical film starring Potter and Argentinean dancer Pablo Verón. Filmmaker/ screenwriter Sally has writer’s block. She travels to Paris, sees a performance by Verón, becomes obsessed, and offers to cast him in her film in exchange for tango lessons. They get deeply involved. While he must lead the dance, Sally has to be in charge of her film. Conflict is a double edged sword. Most of the plot is danced. A stunning look at the dramatic skills of tango. Available on YouTube.
Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School 2006 based on a 1990 short film, fragments of which are interwoven as flashbacks. Directed by Randall Miller. Though another dance-can-redeem piece, this one is deft, low key, and in many ways original. Mourning widower/baker Frank Keane (Robert Carlyle) stops for a car crash and dials 911. He’s told to keep the severely wounded man trapped inside (John Goodman as Steve Mills) talking. Steve is determined to get to a reunion assignation made 40 years ago at a dance school. Over the course of an ambulance ride, Steve tells his story.
Screenplay goes back and forth from Steve’s past to Frank’s present. Having been given the victim’s ticket, he goes to the school (now an adult class run by Marilyn’s daughter, Marienne – Mary Steenburgen) and ends up taking class. In time, Frank discovers a portal back to life and romance with Meredith (Marisa Tomei) despite her volatile step-brother Randall (Donnie Wahlberg). Narrative includes a widowers’ therapy group peopled with well known character actors, Steve’s beautifully manifest dancing school days, and a completely unexpected glimpse of Steve’s adult history. Free with Amazon Prime.
Black Swan 2010 Directed by Darren Aronovsky. A psychological horror film. Obsessive/compulsive Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman – terrific!) will do anything to play the dual role of innocent white and sensual black swan in New York Ballet Company’s season opening of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. She embodies the former, but lacks heat necessary to the later. Determined to secure the role of black swan if not both, competing ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis) beds both artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) and (possibly – or it may be hallucination) a drugged Nina. She is made the alternate.
Nina’s hallucinations increase. Lily is given the role, but Nina convinces Thomas she can handle it with hitherto unseen passion. Between acts, she’s overtaken by violent imaginings, some of which turn out to be real. The story ends in tragedy. Powerfully done. Portman worked out for five hours a day, doing ballet, cross-training, and swimming. A few months closer to filming, she began choreography training. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks 2014 Based on the play, a two-hander by Richard Alfieri. Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman. A sweet, formulaic star vehicle for Gina Rowlands fans. The actress, at 84, plays 75 year-old Lily Harrison, a Baptist minister’s widow living in a posh Florida senior citizens high rise. Lily signs up for dance lessons at home and is sent ex-Broadway gypsy Michael (Cheyenne Jackson) who tries too hard and offends her in countless ways. When she comes into the studio to quit, he pleads a sick breadwinner wife (he’s gay) and desperation for the job (true).
Lily gives him another chance, discovers his lie, again withdraws on principle, and again signs up. She doesn’t really need lessons, she needs a partner; the husband to whom she refers is, in fact, deceased. Michael shows up in costume, bubbly and bright. Both are however, emotionally wounded. They develop a deep relationship, bickering on the surface, increasingly bound beneath; confiding, supporting, and dancing. He sees her through her last days. Did I mention it’s formulaic? Free with Amazon Prime.
Finding Your Feet 2018 Directed by Richard Loncraine. A British romantic comedy with appealing ensemble work that elevates predictability with understated charm. When Lady Sandra Abbott (Imedla Staunton) discovers her best friend is having an affair with her husband of 35 years, she goes to pieces showing up unannounced at the small, messy apartment of older sister Bif, short for Elizabeth (Celia Imrie), she hasn’t seen in years. Sandra is stiff/judgmental/prudish while Bif is an optimistic free spirit.
Recalling how much her sister used to enjoy dancing, Bif invites Sandra to the lessons she takes with a group of lively older men and women. Chief among these are dear friends Jackie (Joanna Lumley), Ted (David Haymen), and Charlie (Timothy Spall – wonderful). Charlie, who lives on a barge moored side by side with that of Ted, is Bif’s particular friend. While Ted is a widower, Charlie’s wife has rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s and has been institutionalized for years on the money he got selling their house. He visits her regularly acting with great tenderness. She doesn’t recognize him.
The story breaks down Sandra’s walls in credible fashion, opening her up to Bif, romance, and the woman she was before a repressive marriage. This doesn’t go smoothly. There’s also an unnecessary-to-the-plot illness. Dance scenes are infectiously joyful. Acting is first rate. Free with Amazon Prime.
The White Crow 2019 inspired by Rudolf Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh. Produced and Directed by Ralph Fiennes (who also plays a Russian dance master). The New York Times referred to this film as “portrait of the artist as a young man.” It depicts people and circumstances that shaped the premier danseur, culminating in his dramatic defection from Russia/The Kirov Ballet at Paris’s Bourget Airport. Shifting from his poverty stricken childhood to ballet school in Leningrad to adulation in Paris may make you a bit dizzy, but segments themselves are well executed.
Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) is sure of himself from the start, regularly risking everything, speaking his own mind. He reads, absorbs art and learns English, determined to end up in the West without a specific plan. The young dancer is an obvious black sheep and under suspicion much of the time, but given leeway because of extraordinary talent. Whenever questioned, he declares he doesn’t care about politics, it’s freedom he’s after. Here, defection is spontaneous, based on indications he might be sent to prison rather than go on with the company. Dark and well produced. Rent on Amazon Prime.
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