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LOCARNO 2019 Competition

Review: Isadora’s Children

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- France’s Damien Manivel brings together his two great passions, film and dance, to create an exacting and poignant choreographic film

Review: Isadora’s Children
Manon Carpentier and Marika Rizzi in Isadora’s Children

Making his return to the Locarno Film Festival following the 2014 Special Mention he received in the Filmmakers of the Present section for A Young Poet [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Damien Manivel is treating the festival to a fourth film, Isadora’s Children [+see also:
trailer
interview: Damien Manivel
film profile
]
, a demanding and highly personal work which he was clearly born to direct.

Whilst director and dancer Damien Manivel hadn’t dared, until now, to place dance centre stage in his films, his cinema had always been marked by the presence of both these disciplines in his life, proferring images as rigorous and elusive as the art of dance itself. With Isadora’s Children, which has been selected for the International Competition, the French director focuses directly and explicitly on dance, and more specifically, on the extraordinary and revolutionary American dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan.

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It’s through his own personal recreation of Duncan’s dance piece intitled “Mother”, which she created following the tragic death of her two children in 1931, that Damien Manivel tries to fathom the complex personality of the choreographer. Isadora’s Children is both a tribute to a free and atypical woman who revolutionised the history of dance, and an attempt to recreate, through images, the sensation of loss and emptiness which Duncan’s touching choreography exudes. Manivel’s is a complex work which belies a thorough understanding of the two artforms, dance and film, which co-exist in harmony within the film, without one ever attempting to eclipse the other.

The director films the work as if he himself were a choreographer, both in terms of the overall structure of the story and the way in which he captures the movements of his characters; movements which swing from the everyday to the majestic. A close-up on a bare foot which slides beneath the duvet, a finger which traces the words in a book or the reflection of a body in the mirror which enhances its significance twofold... Each and every detail, magnified and drawn out over time, acquires new meaning and is enriched by many different nuances. The slow pace and precision with which Damien Manivel observes his small world is nigh-on disconcerting and frightening, reminiscent of an Eastern filmmaking approach that is unfamiliar to the audience. As if it were a body of infinite possibilities in and of itself, the camera flies over buildings and winds its way into the private lives of the protagonists in order to unearth their mysteries, which it then rewrites in its own particular language.

Isadora’s Children is arranged into three parts - as if a piece of choreography - danced by three bodies which are very different from one another, but which are all inhabited by the same feelings: those released by Isadora Duncan’s dance piece “Mother”. There’s the first part, which is punctuated by a voice-over reading extracts from Duncan’s biography, and which stars the mysterious Agathe Bonitzer as the lead, who is trying to get to grips with the choreography of the piece; a second part, where a choreographer (Marika Rizzi) and a dancer with Down’s Syndrome (Manon Carpentier) are preparing for a show and a performance of “Mother”; and a final section focusing on an elderly lady (the American choreographer Elsa Wolliaston, previously the protagonist of Manivel’s short film The Lady with the Dog) who is moved to tears by the dance piece.

Uniting these three moments is the power of the bodies, which express themselves almost in spite of themselves, gently caressing the ghosts which continue to haunt them. Despite their individual differences, each of these women comes to embody Isadora, sharing her pain and her complexity, communicating a different part of her personality. According to Isadora Duncan, “each of us must find our own way of moving, our own way of doing things”. Damien Manivel has surely found his.

Isadora’s Children is produced by MLD Films and co-produced by the Jeonju Film Festival, while Shellac are in charge of international sales.

(Translated from Italian)

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