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IFFR 2024 Limelight

Review: Boléro

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- Anne Fontaine retraces the complex origin story of the famous composition for ballet, with Raphaël Personnaz’s Maurice Ravel corseted in his emotions

Review: Boléro
Raphaël Personnaz, Doria Tillier, Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Perez in Boléro

Where does artistic inspiration come from? How does the genie get out of the bottle? There are of course no definitive explanations as to the mystery of these emanations, besides a few basic necessary ingredients such as talent, a personal quest, and the dazzling encounter of the artist’s profound psyche with the circumstances of their existence. “I don’t believe in muses, I believe in music, I honour it and pray to it, but it does not always answer me:” thus spoke Maurice Ravel, whose creative process behind his world famous composition, the Boléro, French filmmaker Anne Fontaine has decided to analyse in Boléro [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, unveiled in the Limelight programme of this year’s IFFR

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A “classical” feature film in keeping with the disciplined work from the experimented director (who has made 18 feature films, including some previous incursions into the period film, with Agnus Dei [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Lou de Laâge
film profile
]
et Coco Before Chanel [+see also:
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film profile
]
), but one where an original tune hums faintly in the background, an insistent shadow of sadness and restraint that echoes the elegant melancholy of its protagonist. From this emerges a very precise and rigorous narrative rhythm, taking it time, and a desire not let the viewer become too distracted by the film’s melody (an impossible love, the incredible circumstances around the creation of the Boléro) nor able to anticipate the final crescendo (we already know that the music will eventually see the light of day). Under the patina of a biopic, told through the story of a composition whose international success granted its author immortality, the filmmaker indeed paints a strange picture of a man who rejects happiness and anticipates disaster. From this conflict within a “volcano of ice,” a masterpiece will emerge. 

The year is 1927 and the insomniac Maurice Ravel (the excellent Raphaël Personnaz), a composer famous the world over but also criticised by some for a style deemed very unemotional, is commissioned to write a composition for ballet by the impetuous choreographer Ida Rubinstein (Jeanne Balibar). Completely blocked in his creative process, but supported by Misia (Doria Tillier) whom he is wildly in love with, and by Marguerite (Emmanuelle Devos), Cipa (Vincent Perez) and Madame Revelot (Sophie Guillemin), Ravel will eventually succeed, composing the haunting and hypnotic air based on a descending tetrachord (“the sound of the origins, the primitive foundation”). But like his work (“it repeats and repeats itself, then it begins again and at a certain point, it goes wrong, everything explodes and then it’s over, like life”), the very existence of the artist (secretly weighed down by a past revealed across a few flashbacks) is getting out of balance… 

A musial delight (with Ravel’s pieces played on the piano by Alexandre Tharaud), Boléro is a film concealing a muted pain under its traditional appearance, and a very close observation of the psychology (elusive even to himself) of a genius sometimes lost in his own music, full of sounds and silences. A stranger to communal human existence yet eager to get a taste of it, he is a fatalistic and endearing figure. The filmmaker succeeds in creating an insidiously engrossing portrait by adorning it with enticing delights, so that all viewers may be willing to approach this odd character.

Produced by Ciné-@ and Cinéfrance Studios, and co-produced by F Comme Film, France 2 Cinéma and Belgian companies Artemis Productions, RTBF, Voo & Be TV and Proximus, Boléro is sold internationally by SND.

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(Translated from French)

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