Dir: Claire Denis. Fr.2005. 86mins.
Claire Denis' career asdirector has seen her bounce back and forth between challenging butwell-crafted feature films (Beau Travail, Vendredi Soir) andother, less accessible stories that seem wilfully abstruse (Trouble EveryDay, L'Intrus).
Vers Mathilde suggests that the more experimental, conceptual sideof the director's character may eventually find its true metier in thedocumentary format. Though it is unlikely to get anything but the mostultra-niche arthouse distribution - in addition to the TV and cable airingalready guaranteed by backer Arte - this portrait of French dancer andchoreographer Mathilde Monnier is an intelligent enquiry into the dynamics ofdance, and the way that a contemporary dance piece evolves from conception torealisation.
But it's also - and this iseasily the most interesting thing about the film - a dialogue between two artforms, cinema and dance, and between two women who like to push back theboundaries of their chosen disciplines.
Monnier is the director ofthe Centre Choreographique National de Montpelier, France's leading dancetraining and research centre. Denis filmed Monnier and her troupe at theirMontepelier base during rehearsals for what eventually turn into a series of distinctdance pieces.
An ultra-light crew(consisting of Denis, her camera operator and her brother, Brice Leboucq, whowas in charge of the sound) allowed the director to capture the nuances of thedancers' movements or what Monnier refers to as "marks in space".
Purist that she is, Denisrefused to shoot on DV, beginning on Super 8 and then - when Arte boarded theproject - switching to an Aaton 16mm camera. Her use of two cinematographerswas, apparently, determined by the economics of the exercise, which was filmedin gaps between other projects; but both Denis regular Agnes Godard and newbieHelene Louvart adopt an agile, probing style that interacts with the dancer,sometimes focussing on flailing limbs, sometimes stepping back to chart theinterrelations of the troupe members in the large rehearsal space.
The audible whirring of thecamera motor is not so much a distraction as a reminder of the filmic artifice:in coming between the audience and the subject, it helps to divide outattention equally between the choreographer whose work we are watching, and thedirector-choreographer behind the lens.
The rehearsal sequences areinterspersed with passages of Monnier talking and theorising her creations. Notalways accessible to the layman, these post-modern discourses are saved frompretension by Monnier's obvious devotion to her art, and the way she feels herway towards what she wants to say. But far more effective are the scenes inwhich Monnier dances, rather than speaks, especially a long, uncut sequence towardsthe end when she writhes and jerks like a possessed thing. It is the one pointwhere the ascetic, deliberately unadorned style of this rather hard,unforgiving documentary gives way to something like passion.
Prod cos: Why Not Productions, Arte France
Int'l sales: Celluloid Dreams
Prod: Pascal Caucheteux
Cines: Agnes Godard, HeleneLouvart
Ed: Anne Souriau