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TOKYO – Clown-phobics may run screaming but, along with an omnipresent wild-haired joker, the world’s most famous acrobatic troupe delivers a feast of surreal beauty and moments of breath-catching wonder in the skilfully staged 3D film Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away.
Basically a greatest-hits extravaganza tenuously linked by a love-story narrative, the Tokyo International Film Festival’s opening-night film relies on Shrek and Narnia director Andrew Adamson’s use of slo-mo, close-ups and inventive camera angles to smooth the transition from big top to big screen.
The undeniably spectacular skills of the Cirque du Soleil performers lose little in translation, although the intimate moments work decidedly better, as cinema-goers catch each slap of the aerialists’ mid-air hand grasps and every droplet of water splashed. A gloriously elastic female gymnast doing solo backflips inside an oversized brandy glass is a highlight.
With more than 100 million tickets sold across six continents for Cirque du Soleil stage shows, the brand certainly has reach. The new medium opens the experience up to an even wider audience, although families may balk at what is essentially an experimental art film. Paramount Pictures is giving the James Cameron executive-produced film a high-profile holiday release stateside on Dec 21 following its theatrical release in Japan Nov 9, before rolling it out to other territories early next year.
The story opens with something that would never happen at a live Cirque du Soleil performance – a fall.
Mia (Erica Linz), a petite outsider visiting a down-at-heel old-timey circus (the kind with sword-swallowers and bearded ladies), is drawn to one of the performers. He’s a trapeze artist simply known as The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov) and when she catches his eye mid-air, he breaks concentration and plunges to the ground.
The sand of the rink gives way and she follows him down the rabbit hole, as it were, into a parallel universe where she meets that madly prancing clown (John Clarke). He escorts her through a series of fantastical realms populated by trampolining superheroes, riderless tricycles and giant double-jointed spiders from the company’s Las Vegas shows, including O, Mystere, Believe and Viva Elvis (blessedly, no Michael Jackson – The Immortal World Tour, as that would be just weird.)
As she wanders through these dreamscapes clutching a poster of The Aerialist to her chest, Linz alternates eye-widening with theatrical brow-furrowing. Let’s just say that as an actress, she’s a good acrobat, which is made clear in the gorgeously romantic finale.
The brow-furrowing is understandable, though, as, like most abstractedly mystical Cirque stage shows, the action follows the logic of a dream.
Bland, synthetic world muzak rotates with peppier tunes from Elvis and The Beatles, adding to the sense of disconnect between the differently themed vignettes, which Adamson shot at various Las Vegas stage shows.
Still, the unifying accomplishment is in the giddy acrobatics, sleek sensuality and heart-stopping derring-do of the performers, as well as the constantly sumptuous, transportingly immersive cinematography.
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Toronto Film Festival