Review: After a fall, a ballet dancer rediscovers her passion in upbeat ‘Rise’

A ballet dancer in a long pink skirt performs against a black background.
Marion Barbeau in the movie “Rise.”
(Emmanuelle-Jacobson-Roques / Blue Fox Entertainment)

Dance movies don’t usually start by injuring their central protagonists — even “Black Swan” held its dosing of madness in check for maximum second-half impact. But when a young Parisian ballet star is hobbled by a broken bone and a broken heart at the beginning of French filmmaker Cédric Klapisch’s “Rise,” it merely triggers the meaningful recovery and renewal animating this breezy, charming love letter to the art form, its tightknit communities, and what nourishes the impulse to find healing expression in movement.

In other words, this occasionally meandering, openly life-affirming confection is in direct contrast to the torqued and tortured “Black Swan.” But it’s even the opposite of a beloved classic like 1948’s “The Red Shoes,” which, while thrillingly lush and exhilarating in depicting dance, offered a more torrential view of the human passions surrounding it. There is one similarity to “The Red Shoes,” however, in the fact that “Rise,” too, boasts a star-making turn from an acting newcomer: ballet-trained Paris Opera principal Marion Barbeau, a camera natural who calls up the same lived-in authenticity that made Moira Shearer’s screen debut so galvanizing.

Marion Barbeau in the movie "Rise."
(Emmanuelle-Jacobson-Roques/Blue Fox Entertainment)

We meet Barbeau’s Elise, a top ballerina, in a near-wordless opening sequence capturing the hushed bustle behind an evening performance of “La Bayadère.” After glimpsing her co-star boyfriend cheating on her in the wings, though, Elise takes a bad fall mid-performance. She is told by a doctor that her ankle fracture will take two years to repair and, though she’s 26 and in her prime, may mean never dancing again.

She gets plenty of emotional support and encouragement from her physical therapist (François Civil), dance company colleagues and her sisters — if not, to her liking, their aloof intellectual dad (Denis Podalydès). But what’s sinking in is that Elise may need to pack up her only dream — the one her late mother, herself a dancer, fostered — and find another. On a whim, she agrees to help an ex-dancer pal (Souheila Yacoub) and her chef boyfriend (Pio Marmaï) cater an artists retreat in picturesque Brittany. Just in time, of course, for a contemporary dance ensemble run by esteemed choreographer Hofesh Shechter (playing himself) to take up residence, opening her eyes — and her recuperating mind and body — to an earthier, more spontaneously freeing version of that same calling.

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Klapisch, who wrote “Rise” (originally titled “En Corps”) with Santiago Amigorena and is best known here for the airy, friendly ensemble romantic comedy “L’Auberge Espagnole” (which spawned two sequels), is hardly interested in what’s fraught or complex about bouncing back from devastation. Not that the movie ignores what’s physical or disciplined about dance training, but Klapisch’s admiration for the art is the foregrounding sensibility — it makes him a good director of filmed dance, for one thing — and Elise is only ever surrounded by upbeat, cheery people quick with a smile and devoid of personality problems. It’s a winning cast, but don’t be surprised if you think about how many commercials for good times with friends or wellness products could be excerpted from the buoyant cinematography and editing style of “Rise.”

Any hint of tension, therefore — including one character’s misguided crush on Elise, and the subplot of Dad’s emotional reticence — quickly dissipates in the swirl of revitalization, camaraderie or energetic choreography. One character gently tells Elise it’s good that she’s struggling, that it’s a check on her life of privilege. But that insight isn’t exactly backed up by the lighthearted trajectory on display, even as Barbeau’s body-and-spirit performance is only ever magnetic and dimensionalized, impressively so for a debut turn. She certainly sells Klapisch’s version, with appeal to spare. She also lets you know she can probably do so much more. So while watching Elise find her second life is plenty enjoyable, here’s hoping the next act in her portrayer’s newfound career is just as invigorating.


In French with English subtitles
Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Playing: Starts June 2, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles