French filmmaker Stéphanie di Giusto makes her directorial debut with “The Dancer,” a compelling biopic of the visionary modern dancer Loïe Fuller, the mentor of Isadora Duncan. “The Dancer” is such a bold and assured film, wildly creative and sensual, that it feels far more sophisticated than a debut, and signals Di Giusto as one to watch.
Anchored by a bravura performance by the French singer-actress Soko as Loïe, the film traces the dancer’s life from growing up in a fur trapping camp in the American West with her French father, to her early days as a stage actress and dancer, to her triumph in Paris, the toast of the Folie Bergères. She ultimately makes it to the stage of the Paris Opera Ballet, thanks to her patron, the Count D’Orsay (Gaspard Ulliel), wowing crowds with her inventive and visually unique style of whirling fabrics and colored lights.
The second half of the film details her close relationship with her protégé, Isadora (Lily-Rose Depp), which swings from romance to rivalry and back again. While Isadora may be a naturally gifted dancer, the film positions Loïe as a creative genius, who drove her body to the brink for her art. Di Giusto films the scenes of her performances as if she’s a flower in bloom, a fish underwater, a glowing amoeba in the dark.
Ultimately, “The Dancer” is a story about the spark of creativity, the ownership of artistic ideas, and the extreme efforts that artists will go to to achieve their work. The stunning and thought-provoking film preserves the legacy of an artist before her memory is lost to time.
In English and French with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills