French Film Rise, Starring Paris Opéra Ballet’s Marion Barbeau, Follows a Dancer’s Transformation After Injury
Twenty-six-year-old Elise Gautier has it all: a promising career with a major ballet company; a relationship with a golden-boy fellow dancer. But in the first few minutes of the feature film Rise (released last year in France and in U.S. theaters this month), it all comes crashing down. Warming up backstage for her debut in La Bayadère, Elise (played by Paris Opéra Ballet première danseuse Marion Barbeau) catches her boyfriend kissing another dancer in the wings. Elise bourrées onto the stage looking shell-shocked and promptly suffers a fall so brutal that the curtains are lowered. Later, an unsmiling doctor immobilizes her ankle in a cast and bans her from dancing for at least two years.
Doubly heartbroken, the floundering Elise takes a job assisting the chef at an artist’s retreat in Brittany. She has almost resigned herself to a change of career when the month’s guests arrive: Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter (playing himself) and his company of joyful, uninhibited contemporary dancers.
Rise, directed by Cédric Klapisch, highlights some important ballet-world issues. The pressure Elise feels to make the most of her career had led her to push through previous injuries and cut short a course of physical therapy—leaving her more vulnerable to one bad fall. And, as a lifelong bunhead, she has blinders on against everything except ballet.
It’s a pleasure to watch those blinders fall away as Elise, initially skeptical, falls in with Shechter’s contemporary crew—first watching curiously as they stomp and shrug in daily class, then joining in as they lock arms for playful trust exercises beside the sea. The blustery coasts of Brittany prove a luscious backdrop for Elise’s belated rebellion. “Almost every ballet is about a woman’s life being ruined,” she vents. “Not one classical ballet has a positive fate for women.”
Not that Rise is a condemnation of ballet—far from it. The film is expansive: attuned to patterns of music and movement in everyday life, from the chef rhythmically peeling heaps of onions and carrots to the passionate couple making their bedframe bounce and squeak.
Casting directors for ballet movies usually have to strike a compromise between their leads’ acting and dancing abilities. Black Swan (2010) benefited from an Oscar-winning performance by Natalie Portman, but it relied on a body double (former American Ballet Theatre principal Sarah Lane) for most of the ballet sequences. Center Stage (2000) took the opposite tack, showcasing brilliant dancing from big-name ballet stars, but with acting so amateurish it crossed over into (lovable) camp.
Thanks to the multitalented Marion Barbeau, no such trade-offs are necessary in Rise. There are no strategic cuts to close-up here. Instead, we relish the drama and emotion in Barbeau’s whole body: the grimace on her face and the tentative flexing of her ankle as she painstakingly relearns how to point her foot; the euphoria stretching from her eyes to her toes as she rediscovers the joy of dance.
Rise, which is not rated, opens in New York City and Los Angeles on June 2, followed by a national roll out.