Movie Review: ‘Birds of Paradise’, a sexy and stylish competitive ballet story | Entertainment

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Films that portray the brutality behind the beauty of ballet have become a sub-genre in their own right. From the romantic and tragic Archers’ melodrama “The Red Shoes” to Dario Argento’s cheerfully wizarding giallo splash festival “Suspiria” (plus the 2018 Luca Guadagnino remake) and Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller “Black Swan”, the Backstage ballet barbarism offers a landscape for exploring the darker parts of femininity. Yet few female directors have had the chance to make their imprint on the genre, which immediately sets Sarah Adina Smith’s “Birds of Paradise” apart, a film that references and combines elements from those previous films to make a film of. dark ballet, wicked, and indeed, beautiful.

Based on AK Small’s young adult book “Bright Burning Stars”, “Birds of Paradise” follows two aspiring star dancers as they battle for top prize at a Parisian ballet school. Kate (Diana Silvers) and Marine (Kristine Froseth) are both Americans in Paris, but they couldn’t be more different. Kate, originally from Virginia, is a scholarship student and inelegant stranger, while Marine, the daughter of the American ambassador, has trained for the honor her entire life. Her dance partner and twin, Ollie, recently committed suicide, and therefore the desire to “win for Ollie” drives her to be successful in any way necessary.

The world Smith turns, in collaboration with longtime cinematographer Shaheen Seth, choreographer Celia Rowson-Hall and composer Ellen Reid, is a modernist fantasy of the imagined idea of ​​a ruthless French ballet school. , where drugs flow easily and the line between dance and sex is often blurred. It accurately portrays ballet as the competitive, catty, bloody, and superstitious art form that it is, though it has been stepped up and twisted into a soapy teen melodrama of secrets, intrigue, and sabotage.

While Kate and Marine start off as brawling ballerinas, they quickly grow into inextricably linked besties. Marine, mourning the loss of Ollie, needs a twin and she quickly replaces her brother with Kate. They take an oath to win the prize together, but it becomes evident that these two cannot both occupy the same first place: as Kate becomes subsumed in the strict system imposed by their teacher Madame Brunelle (Jacqueline Bisset), Marine has no choice but to completely break with her.

This story is familiar and a bit stereotypical, albeit scorched by scandal, but the appeal of “Birds of Paradise” lies in its ultra-cool style. Reid’s abstract electronic score is the soundtrack to Rowson-Hall’s choreography, which disrupts traditional ballet techniques with a touch of modern dance. The austere white-on-white studio where the ballet battles take place is juxtaposed with a wild, hedonistic and hallucinatory world of modern dance, in an underground club called “Jungle”. Seth’s cinematography is breathtaking, responding to the mood of each moment in contrast, but placed in a cohesive look that gives the film a dreamy, unreal quality.

But despite all the drugs, glamor, death, and twincest, there’s something about the seemingly squalid “Birds of Paradise” that feels a bit sanded and sanitized. It’s moving for a young adult audience, the emotional rhythms easy to digest. It’s not as unsettling as “Black Swan”, or as operationally violent as “Suspiria” or even as hopelessly tragic as “The Red Shoes”, although it does evoke those themes. Ultimately, “Birds of Paradise” is hopeful, which seems almost out of place with the kind of movie it is trying to be. Breaking with the cinematographic tradition, it transmits a message of redemption, of fall with the chance to rise again.

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‘BIRDS OF PARADISE’

2.5 stars (out of 4)

MPAA Rating: R (for drug use, sexual content, language, and brief nudity)

Duration: 1:53

Where to watch: Streaming Friday on Amazon Prime

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© 2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.


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