The problem with Ballroom (aka Dancing) is that everybody seems to want it to be a gay porno movie. OK, so it is about a gay couple, and yes, at one point they do get down to business on camera. But more time is spent in the film cooking and eating than having sex and yet you can’t call Ballroom a culinary movie. I think that Ballroom can best be described as a study in atmosphere... and the atmosphere in this case is surreal and disquieting but in a cool psychological way.
This film has a creepy strangeness that is a lot of fun to watch. Bernard and Trividic are the same people who created The Case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft (reviewed elsewhere here on Movie Habit) which was also a stylishly odd film. I think these guys are on to something.
The narrative in Ballroom (what there is of one) goes something like this. The boys live in an empty seaside dance hall on the coast of France. One of them, Patrick the writer (Pierre Trividic), was raised there and he’s come back to live and work in the old building. He’s turned the vacant ballroom over to his boyfriend René the artist (Patrick-Mario Bernard) as a studio/performance space where René gets busy working up a show for the gallery owner Maurice (Jean-Yves Jouannais).
The joke here is that René’s art is all about toy bears and bear totems while he and Patrick are themselves ‘bears’, i.e. hairy, pudgy, middle aged gay guys. The joke continues with René running a ‘porno’ web site with pictures of his toy bears doing pretty much nothing. If this leaves you confused, google ‘bear porn’ and then stand back.
René is always on the make for art material and when he runs across a 60 year old photo of a couple of music hall comedians in sun-dresses and comically huge bows on their heads, he appropriates the image. But the image seems to have appropriated him as well. He starts seeing the two comics everywhere he looks and one of them seems to be himself. He then is introduced to the idea of parallel universes and starts to wonder if he might really be one of the comics in another universe.
When Patrick leaves for the day, and René is knocking around alone in the empty building, strange things start to happen... things that seem to originate down in the dark dirty space below the dance floor. The effect of René going mad is like the woman’s decent in Polanski’s Repulsion with a dash of Lynch thrown in. Gradually René comes to accept the strange copy of himself.
When he sits down to have lunch with his doppelganger (who appears to be an idiot), the domestic normalcy mixed with the lunatic absurdity is something rare. And when René’s hallucinations begin to bleed over into the ‘sane’ world, things really start to get strange.
As noted above, I believe Ballroom to be an exercise in atmosphere, and as a consequence there really isn’t a story. Instead we seem to just go along for the ride as René spirals out of control. The effect even spreads to Maurice, who has come to check up on René’s progress on the upcoming show and there the film abruptly ends. But before you arrive at the last scene you’ll be treated to some really inspired surrealism, and that’s got to count for something. This film deserves much more attention than it has been getting.
- Clips from other works
This DVD has some of the best extras I’ve ever seen... certainly the best display of storyboard art. The clip “How to make a doppelganger” is not to be missed. And the clip from Ceci est une pipe is a rare insight to (presumably) the way that Bernard and Trividic work.
Picture and Sound
The movie features terrific camera work by Xavier Brillat. This really is an Art film with a capital A.
How to Use This DVD
The extras are as important as the film. Do not miss them.