The beginning of the 2000s. Pototskiy, a promising but then drunken ballet dancer, noticed a dancing girl Yulia on the street of provincial Shakhtinsk, who turned out to be a "difficult teenager" with more than one police detention. He travels with Yulia to Moscow and shows her to his former teacher, the once famous Soviet ballerina Beletskaya, who teaches at the ballet academy. Possessing an independent character and direct manners Yulia is admitted to the academy. —Peter-Patrick76 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A Girls Epic Struggle to be the Best.
I was surprised at how much I loved this film. I didn't know what to expect, but then, that's often one great joy of Russian film. A young Russian girl from a depressed family in a backwater mining town is spared reform school after an aging drunkard ex-ballet-star from the Bolshoi Theatre recognises her rare natural talent purely by chance. He swallows the shame of his own personal failure to pitch her to a training school in Moscow with the hope that after eight years she'll be accepted to the Bolshoi Ballet as a soloist. That's the first five minutes; then the real struggle begins. Julia's journey to stardom is plagued by pain, poverty, loveless isolation, loneliness, betrayal, backstabbing and at times incredible loyalty and sacrifice. To call her story epic would be an understatement. Following the initial set up the story settles into a rhythm of flashback sequences inter cutting fragments of Julia's early hardships with challenges in the present. To tell the story chronologically would be tedious and disconnected; she is nearly ten years older at the end of the film than in the beginning. By establishing the story in the past, moving to the present and then stitching in flashback sequences the hardships of her past are given greater bearing on the challenges facing her in the present. From the opening frames the cinematography is just stunning; the tracking is superb; there is so much elegant movement in this film; it's a dance with the camera. The use of focus-shifts, of depth-of-field to suggest movement is beautiful; small moments speak volumes. The Mise en scene is stunning; whether in the boondocks, on the rooftops, in the snow, or at the dancers barre. One great star of this is Bolshoi Theatre itself with it's majestic scale and gilded presence; Todorovsky had it for one week to complete all interior and dance shots. Remember, this includes two shooting casts; both young Julia and older Julia, with all her contemporary peers. The diegetic sound is superb; the music slips from contemporary score to Tchaikovsky seamlessly. The casting is great; Julia's trainer at the academy is a near forgotten aging star herself, an exceptional performance by Alisa Freyndlikh. The young Julia is breathtaking; and when older so is her chief competitor; Margarita Simonova gives a superb performance too as the mature Julia. Philosophically: Following on from the striking modernism of the post-revolutionary period Soviet film quickly concerned itself with 'Realism' whereby the role of film was to give a true indication of what life is really like. Fabulous examples are Kalatazov "The Cranes Are Flying", Shepitko "The Ascent", Chukrai "Ballad of a Soldier", and even Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood". All are exceptionally moving, fleshing out the tragic lives of ordinary people, but this realism is not unique to Soviet film culture. It manifests deeply in Russian art and culture through a millennia, and continues unabated in recent films such as Konchalovsky's "The Postman's White Nights", Zvyagintsev's "Loveless", Melnik's epic "Territoriya" and as it happens we see it in Todorovsky's "The Bolshoi" too. Julia's story is realist; it is imbued with grace, jealousy, sadness and compassion; even after 132 minutes the end is only a beginning; her struggle will go on. But in that last moment of film we feel great emotion too. There are moments when the film falters. At the three quarter mark something goes amiss; whether it was the shooting schedule, lost shots, illness, or that Todarovsky simply dropped the ball it's impossible to say. But after a few minutes the film recovers; equilibrium is restored. Only one choice really grated with me and that was the choice, toward the conclusion, for the visiting foreign 'star' performer Antoin to speak his lines in what I can only call a very troubling English; it would have been a better and more natural choice to have used French. At a later moment, when they do use French, it is seamless and fitting. A lovely, brilliant film; the end is simply one moment in a long struggle; a realist film, at once both sad and joyful. Very Russian.
- Oct 21, 2017
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