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Three loosely connected love stories. The first story: Paula is a talented dancer who cannot truly live unless she dances. But has a heart condition, which means she cannot live if she does. The second story: Tommy despises his French tutor, and hates being a child. He wants to be an adult so he can do what he wants. He gets his wish, being transformed into a handsome young man for one evening, and learns about whole new side of his French tutor. Third story: Pierre Narval is trapeze artist who gave it up when his partner died doing a dangerous stunt at his bidding. He rescues Nina, a beautiful young woman, after she throws herself into the Seine, and convinces her to become his new aerial partner. Her husband had been killed by the Nazis during the war, and she blames herself. They fall in love, which is tested when Nina must perform the stunt which killed Pierre's former partner. Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
MGM gave composer Miklos Rozsa only a week's notice to come up with a ballet for Moira Shearer. The composer said the assignment was beyond his range under the circumstances and was asked to provide an alternate piece. He selected Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini." See more »
Several years ago, when I first saw this movie, I felt that it was melodramatic with awkward dialogue and clumsy direction, and not worth my time, except for the dancing segment with Moira Shearer and James Mason ("Jealous Lover"). After this recent viewing, I have a better appreciation of the finished product and wonder at the curious division of directors, Minnelli and Reinhardt, and committee of script writers, which may account for the structural and dialogue flaws in the film. Throughout the movie I had the curious feeling that the influence of the great team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger was haunting the producion. Both script and direction fall short of their work, such as "The Red Shoes" or Stairway to Heaven." Yet on this second viewing I still felt it worth my time.
First, the casts are well chosen and the camera loves them, especially the three female leads: Shearer, Caron and Angeli. One cannot find three more gorgeously photogenic and sensitive faces captured by Hollywood and its lenses than these -- and without excessive makeup. Being English, French and Italian (in that order), they also embody the international strength of post-war Hollywood, and are strong complements for the male leads, Mason, Granger and Douglas, all of whom made their careers in America (Mason was born English, I believe). These three leading ladies were certainly chosen for their youthful radiance and sensitivity, and the luminous close-ups plus the saturated color and lush music by the great Rozsa (who appears as the conductor in the first segment) lend a baroque richness to each of the segments reminiscent of Visconti's "Senso," or possibly even "Il Gattopardo."
Second, the camera work and lighting are excellent, both subtle and dramatic at the same time, fully enhancing the flashback aspect and sense of fantasy in all of the stories and revealing the delicacy and individuality of the three women, not to mention the great Agnes Moorehead in the first segment. The delicacy of Shearer, Caron and Angeli with the differences in each of their coloring and bone structure, contrasts dramatically with their respective male leads, the forceful articulateness of Mason (given an incredibly weak script stilted and overwrought when compared to P & P's dialogue for Lermentov in "Red Shoes"), the boyish tenderness of Granger in the second segment, and the snappy personality of Douglas in the high wire segment.
In the latter, which other reviewers seemed to like the least, I found Angeli's combination of vulnerability and inner strength very moving, all of the emotion held back, but pouring out of those great expressive eyes. Her subtlety provided the proper foil for Douglas's aggressive, almost animal energy and line delivery. I am not by any means a fan of
Douglas (except for his "Lust for Life"), but I liked him in "Equilibrium," and was impressed that most of the aerial stunts seemed to have been done by him. Certainly the circumstances of the war that led to Angeli's suicide attempt in the story lent a depth to the plot that was very much of the time and may be difficult for Americans to understand today. However, Europeans were still deeply affected by the war even in the mid-fifties (see "Act of Love," another film of Douglas's).
What each of the female stars gave to the film, as the focus of the "three loves" of the title -- Shearer in her role as a ballerina with the exquisite choreography by Frederick Ashton (celebrating the centennial of his birth this year); Caron, in an early non-dancing part actually using her French in the dialogue if not in the poems by Verlaine; and in Angeli cast as a victim of the war-- was a sense of authenticity and genuineness. I find these qualities very much lacking in the majority of American films, certainly those made by recent directors.
One final thing I liked about "Equilibrium" was showing how Douglas trained Angeli step by step in the high wire act to build up her strength and courage. One doesn't usually see this in a film. It also looked as if Angeli did her own stuntwork. Even if she didn't, it was effectively shot.
In all, a film worthy of renewed viewing. Of four ****, I give three and a half
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