A dancer herself, Madeline Shuron reviews Patric Chiha’s mise-en-abyme film documenting Gisèle Vienne’s movement-based theater piece, CROWD.
Patric Chiha begins his exploration of Gisele Vienne’s Crowd, Si c’était de l’amour, with an aquatic communion: dancers, one by one, step in front of a technician who mists them (fully clothed) as they revel in the sensation of the water droplets on their skin. It’s a very personal ritual — the performers don’t shy away from one another in this moment, per se, still making eye contact, laughing, passing small taps and bumps from one body to the next, but there is an inner solitude that extends through their postures (the bowed heads, the lidded eyes). It’s a solemn reflection, a wholly and holy grounding in the self for both dancer and viewer before the deep dive into the tried and true question: how do we find meaning in the other? How do we connect?
Chiha’s documentary, which received the Teddy Award in 2020 — the Berlinale’s official award for queer films — uses quick cuts to flash between scenes of performance and rehearsal. With a gentle frankness to his camera work, he paints the picture of an ensemble that is slowly fleshed out through staged interviews and quiet backstage moments. Throughout the scenes of Crowd, Chiha uses a lingering gaze on faces and eyes, placing the camera over the shoulder of another performer, situating us in the action both in the shoes of the dancers while at the same time providing a microscopic look into the emotional states of the performers through shots that reveal steady gazes and tumultuous thoughts. He takes a step back through the secret-sharing scenes occurring in dressing rooms and just in the wings — spaces that feel just a little more intimate than real life. We watch the dancers stretch, apply faux-tattoos, and simply sit and breathe with one another as they explain the imagined lives they live on stage along with their own personal lives. Chiha, refusing to draw a distinction between the real and the pretend in a stunning example of mise en abyme, manages to mythologize the bodies and selves in a way that captures the dream state that the piece takes place in, with its intense search for love in a room full of strangers.
Filled with breathtaking displays of and inquiries into intimacy, Si c’était de l’amour manages to strike the balance between informative and entertaining through its embodied look at a dance piece and its rehearsal process.
Si c’était de l’amour :" La danse touche à l'essence du cinéma"