Bolero (2024) IFFR 2024

January 27th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Anne Fontaine | France, Biopic drama, 122′

Anne Fontaine’s ravishing musical biopic of Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) opens with various modern musical versions of the legendary French composer’s 1928 masterpiece – the Bolero – from China, India, Africa and Mexico that have kept his spirit alive for modern audiences and whose composition is at the heart of the drama.

Ralph Personnaz plays the leading role of Ravel, an accomplished pianist in his own right, who is pictured being turned down for a place at the Paris conservatory after a dizzying display of his keyboard talents at audition.

Feted as one of France’s most loved composers, Fontaine chronicles Ravel’s life and loves in the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s with this sumptuous romantic drama that gathers together a talented cast: Jeanne Balibar, Vincent Perez, and Emmanuelle Devos, and benefits from the lavish musical interludes as Ravel takes to the piano during his touring concerts: Like Rachmaninov, amongst others, he earned his living from playing as well as composing.

The first of these transports us to Boston and New York where he convenes with the turn of the century ‘beau monde’ and indulges his penchant for gloves (asking a local prostitute simply to put them on gracefully, rather than indulge his sexual fantasies in a more palpable way). The past fuses with his present in a dreamy reverie of flashbacks that flesh out his talents and skills and cement his reputation as one of the greatest French composers of the 20th century along with his contemporary Debussy, all set against a highly creative period in French history that aligned him with the Impressionists and famous writers and poets such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Cocteau amongst others.

Here in the US he also cements his friendship with the unhappily married Misia Sert (Doria Tillier) one of three female influences in the film: the other being the Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein (Jeanne Balibar), who inspired the Bolero, and his fellow pianist and friend Marguerite Long (Emmanuelle Devos). An elegant and informative biopic from Fontaine who delighted us with Coco before Chanel in 2009. @MeredithTaylor




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