It’s hard to tell if this conceptually fascinating 1983 film is much more than a curio, simply because it’s impossible to get away from the sense that a nearly two-hour film told entirely in mime and dance (not a word is spoken) is something of a stunt picture. Also, there’s the question of the music, which sometimes works as much against the film as for it. For example, the otherwise brilliantly accomplished 1930s segment is all set to the sound of the same ballroom orchestra, which may raise the question of just how much accordion-driven, French dance-band music it takes before one is compelled to go find an accordionist to shoot on sight. (The film is on surer footing when it uses recordings from its respective eras.)
The idea is to encompass about 50 years of French history against the background of the same ballroom — and it’s not a bad idea, but it’s obviously for rather specialized tastes. But the film has a surprising emotional resonance and does a great job of depicting its various time periods. And it ought to be required viewing for every film student, since it’s a virtual compendium of filmmaking techniques — everything from the silent era to the modern (1983) can be found herein. An oddity? Yes, but an oddity well worth having.
â reviewed by Ken Hanke