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Odd, surreal, and almost terminally slow paced, this hard to find film may not be worth finding except for die hard Connelly fans.
A subtle, slow-paced Italian horror film --where the horror is mostly implied rather than overt-- about a ballerina who flies to Italy to try out for an exclusive ballet school and instead becomes lost in a surreal world where time stands still for a hundred year old ballet company, it's long closed theater, and it's diabolical director.
WARNING: DESCRIPTIONS CONTAINS NUMEROUS SPOILERS:
Jason (Gary McCleery), who is working for his cantankerous uncle Joshua (Charles Durning), sees the hauntingly beautiful Claire (Jennifer Connelly) as she climbs the stairs to her hotel room and drops a single ballet slipper behind her. In a Cinderella moment Jason hands her the slipper, introduces himself, and from that moment on he becomes obsessed with her to an almost unhealthy degree. Jason is so distracted by her, that he abandons his uncle in the middle of an important auction of antique clocks when he sees Claire sight-seeing in the auction hall (the clock theme is obviously a reference to the idea that time has stood still, or has become, at the very least, fluid here in this town, an idea further underscored by a scene where Jason wakes up late for work because the array of antique clocks in his hotel room all have the wrong time). In a scene which almost looks as if it was plucked (or "borrowed") from the film "Flashdance," Claire arrives for her ballet audition, looks at all the other girls nervously, peeks through the audition room door and sees how difficult its going to be, then becomes even more nervous when she hears the rejected ballerina's tearful account of how poorly she was treated. Claire freezes when they call her name and does not respond. She then gathers her things and leaves quickly. Unfortunately, in her panic and haste, she becomes lost in the theater and ends up standing in the gloom of the main stage where she puts on an impromptu performance (done by a double, not Connelly) which is witnessed by the tormented and haggard looking Marius Balkan (Laurent Terzieff). He says the name "Natalie" and Claire freezes. When he drops his cane she runs away. And so is set in motion a new and strange turn of events, where Claire becomes haunted by a past that is not her own (or is it?). When wandering the city with Jason she finds an old mansion that seems familiar. She knows exactly where the spare key is hidden and enters the house where she discovers numerous effigies of swans and paintings all of which reference "Swan Lake," the ballet which she has told Jason is her absolute favorite. The next time Jason sees her in the park by the mansion, she is sitting alone in an old fashioned dress, watching the swans swim on the pond. She no longer responds to the name Claire. And in a moment of unintentional humor, the otherwise brilliant composer Jurgen Knieper makes the most unfortunate choice to use a tremolo string motif that sounds exactly like the "Twighlight Zone" theme just as Claire reveals that her name is not Claire, but "Natalie."
From this point on the story focuses on Jason's struggle to bring Claire back to reality, and his eventual discovery that she's not, as he first thinks, confused or insane, but rather there are powerful and dark supernatural forces in play. He discovers Natalie was a dancer who died long ago after she fled a performance of "Swan Lake" and the ballet's director, Marius, has been alive for at least a hundred years. Jason must now try to save Claire from the sinister ballet.
There are many scenes in this film that could have been cut to make the movie flow better, and there are many edits within scenes which could have been made to make the flow tighter. And there is one bizarre and surreal moment during the climax of the film, which I will not reveal, which will either leave the viewer in riotous laughter from the unintentional humor of the situation, or will leave the viewer confused and ripped out of any sense of any kind of reality, or subtle sur-reality, that the film had maintained to that point.
Overall the film is pretty much a failure. It's too slow, too vague, and too unfocused in its mission. Other Italian horror directors suffer this same problem (i.e. Argento and Bava) but those directors make up for the lack of focus and clear direction by drenching their films in artistic style. "Etoile" lacks this style, and so everything rests on the shoulders of the story, and the actors. Unfortunately the story is flawed and the actors are all sorely lacking in strong direction from the director. Gary McCleery as Jason is too over the top in his obsession with Claire and comes off a little bit stalker-ish at moments. Connelly is trying to play her character as dreamy and almost childlike, but with no apparent solid direction from Del Monte she ends up looking lost in her part. Horror fans, and fans of Italian horror will probably be more likely to at least partially enjoy the experience of viewing this film, but the casual film viewer will most likely be bored to tears. Fans of Jennifer Connelly might enjoy it purely because she looks so ethereally beautiful throughout the film (her features caught here in-between her earlier "lolita" looks and her later refined beauty). And good luck finding a copy. Thus far it has only been released in Japan on VHS.
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