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THE DANCER UPSTAIRS

Javier Bardem, Laura Morante, Juan Diego Botto, Luis Miguel Cintra, Alexandra Lancastre

Directed by: John Malkovich
Written by: Nicholas Shakespeare
Produced by: John Malkovich, Andres Vicente Gomez
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

US: 02/05/03
UK: 06/12/02

An investigator called Augustin Rejas is attempting to find the mysterious Ezequiel, the leader of a revolution in an unnamed Latin American nation. Rejas had left this all behind him to pursue worldly ambitions. But now he is a man caught in a war and his choice to become policeman wears on him. So when he meets and is drawn to the teacher of his daughter's ballet class, Yolanda, it's a solace to the emptiness of his marriage and his frustration in the search for Ezequiel.
All sounds very literary and very worthy - but is it worth it as a movie?

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For his directorial debut, Malkovich has chosen a complex true story, fictionalised by Shakespeare (based on his novel), about terrorism in Latin America. Couldn't be more timely really. And the film is absolutely beautiful. The story centres on Lt Rejas (Bardem), an anti-terrorism detective who with his young live-wire partner Sucre (Botto) is on the trail of the mythical leader (Folk) of a subversive, violent revolutionary group that claims to be the "fourth flame of communism." As Rejas, Sucre and their team close in on their man, they must overcome obstacles in the form of political-military leaders (Cintra and Cotton), as well as a distracting spark of romance between Rejas and his daughter's ballet teacher (Morante).

The story is fascinating, with layers of interest as a thriller, romance and political drama. Malkovich uses his camera superbly, capturing tiny details in scenes and characters, as well as making expert use of the setting (most of it was filmed in Ecuador, my home country, although the real story took place in Peru). Bardem is also excellent, quietly and subtly conveying Rejas' frustrations, confusions and dedication to the job. This is a man who has made very difficult choices in his life ... and has more to come. There are levels of suspense, romance and intrigue here, all of which weave together into the overall narrative. And the intelligent script has just enough humour to keep from taking itself seriously. There are a few false moments here and there, partly because the mostly Latino cast all speak English, but also because this is a film made by North Americans! And with all the lovely camera work, the film drags a bit. Jose Luis Alcaine's camera work is drop dead gorgeous, which is probably why Malkovich seems self-indulgent in his editing choices, letting scenes go on too long and stopping the story in the process. Even so, this is a stunning debut. And much more than the average political thriller.

 


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