See How They Dance: Rome Film Review

See How They Dance Still - H 2011
Wild Bunch Distribution

See How They Dance Still - H 2011

A fine cast and daring story make for a sophisticated woman’s picture from Claude Miller.

Marina Hands, Maya Sansa and James Thierree co-star in director Claude Miller's film, which screened at the Rome Film Festival.

Relying on the mother of all coincidences – a trans-Canadian train stuck in the middle of a snowy wasteland, which just happens to be the outpost where the right person lives – for its narrative midsection, Claude Miller’s See How They Dance takes major chances with the breath-taking confidence of a tightrope walker.  Not every viewer will buy into the story of two women who thus meet by “accident” and work through their feelings for a man they both loved. The delicately told tale hinges on relationships built around nuance and feelings instead of sex, for a change, and women more than men are likely to cede to the emotional seduction of the fine trio of actors. This sophisticated French-Canadian-Swiss import won the Jury Award at the Rome Film Festival.

In their adaptation of Roy Parvin’s American-set novella La petite fille de Menno, Miller and co-writer Natalie Carter use a back-and-forth structure that tells several stories at once, giving the film a fluidity that’s rich but not confusing. Lise (Marina Hands), a blonde Parisian who looks more like a model than a documentary filmmaker, has been abruptly abandoned by her beloved husband, the world-famous actor Vic Clement (James Thierree). Putting an end to his career, he has vanished without a trace into the Canadian wilderness.  

Years later, while shooting a film about Canada, Lise winds up as the house-guest of a local doctor, Alex Lewis (Italian actress Maya Sansa), the woman Vic lived with for a time. The prickly city-girl Lise can barely conceal her jealousy and painful memories, while the strong-minded Alex has come to terms with her loss. The story ably mixes the mystery of nature and death without making a fuss, and leads to a sense of closure for both women, thanks to Sansa and Hands’ deep and believable performances.

Another, not inconsiderable achievement is the convincing portrayal of a fragile, neurotic artist, thanks to the daring use of extended excerpts from stage shows by the extraordinary acrobat, clown and magician James Thierree, grandson of Charlie Chaplin. Vic’s very unpredictability makes him a fascinating, mysterious character worth fighting over, even though his relationships have fleeting written all over them from the start.

Veronique Lange does a remarkably smooth job of editing Vic’s stage work and the Parisian back story into the main narrative, while Gerard de Battista’s modern lighting sensitively switches the scene from fancy theater lobbies to Arctic wilderness. Vincent Segal’s purring musical commentary stays in the background, until Sansa warbling a heartfelt number called “Quiet Times” at a local shindig.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (In Competition)
Production companies: Aliceleo in association with Filmarto Inc., France 2 Cinema, Les Productions Jean-Marc HenchozCast: Marina Hands, Maya Sansa, James Thierree, Yves Jacques, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Aubert Pallascio
Director: Claude MillerScreenwriters: Claude Miller, Natalie Carter, based on a novel by Roy Parvin.Executive producer:  Karen Monluc
Producer: Patrick GodeauCo-producers: Suzanne Girard, Matthieu Henchoz
Director of photography: Gerard de BattistaProduction designer: Jean-Francois Campeau
Music: Vincent SegalCostumes:  Jacqueline Bouchard
Editor: Veronique Lange
Sales Agent: TF1 Droits Audiovisuels
No rating, 98 minutes