Covering an eventful artistic season, Jean-Stéphane Bron's "The Paris Opera" is a well-observed vérité portrait of a major cultural institution. The fly-on-the-wall cameras peer into executive suite politics, rehearsals and the daily chores of hairdressers and laundry crew, and Bron achieves a rounded account, if one that won't always be clear to nonbuffs.
The setting will be familiar, though, to anyone who has seen "La Danse," Frederick Wiseman's typically exhaustive look at the ballet side of the centuries-old company. The 2015-2016 season that the relatively succinct "Paris Opera" follows is a period marked by labor strife and terrorist attacks in the capital. But Bron also catches the often unintentional humor in exchanges over technical issues, opening-night seating arrangements and the casting of a bull for Schönberg's "Moses and Aaron."
Bron assumes knowledge of the rocky tenure of dance director Benjamin Millepied, the "Black Swan" choreographer (and husband of Natalie Portman). For those unacquainted with the situation, the allusions to tensions within the troupe will raise more questions than they answer.
The film is most captivating in its focus on the singing side of the celebrated company — especially as seen through the eyes of a charismatic young Russian bass-baritone. A newbie in the opera's academy, Mikhail Timoshenko delights at being welcomed into the rarefied fold, and quickly learns French.
In French, German and English with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena