Reset (Relève: Histoire d’une création)
(France, 110 min.)
Dir. Thierry Demaizière, Alban Teurlai
Filmgoers might know Benjamin Millepied best as Mr. Natalie Portman, but he’s as prolific and talented as his Oscar-winning partner. Before he did the ballet choreography and danced with the devil in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, he made a name for himself as a soloist and primary dancer at the New York City Ballet, and the new doc Reset shows Millepied as a master of the stage. This visually stunning doc is a fine testament to the artist process.
Reset recalls the recent behind-the-scenes dance flick Ballet 422 in which new choreographer Justin Peck mounts the 422nd production at the New York City Ballet as the doc goes backstage to witness the creative journey of a new ballet from its early brainstorming to the night of its big premiere. The doc takes audiences behind the scenes as Millepied embarks on his new responsibility as the dance director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Millepied displays some of the same artistic vision one sees in his onscreen counterpart in Black Swan as he strips ballet down to its essence and delivers a raw, fluid, and visionary work.
The film takes audiences through the 39 days leading up to the curtain call for Millepied’s “Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward” and the opulent setting of the Opéra National de Paris immediately strikes the right balance between fresh innovation and classical technique. Millepied, with his youth, energy, and metropolitan American influence, brings this venerable institution exactly what it needs: fresh air and, more importantly, hefty cash flow as noted by the busy parties and happy donors.
Directors Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai observe Millepied as he works with his dancers and notably uses a core group of performers, rather than one pivotal Swan Queen, to stage the show. Even more radical is his choice to cast a ballerina of colour in a central role. Millepied candidly and passionately talks about the need to shake up the racist institution of the arts in Paris, as patrons reportedly see one black girl as a “distraction” on a stage of homogenous lily white ballerinas. His experience from New York and his fresh perspective bring a much-needed desire to diversify the arts—and they illustrate how much work needs to be done to refresh complacent institutions.
Little else emerges as conflict in Reset, which proves the doc’s biggest hurdle in its running time that spans nearly two-hours. The film could use a little more backstage drama and introduce some complications to provide cycles of narrative within the behind-the-scenes glimpses to keep audiences on their toes. There’s some talk of a strike and some concerns about the material in floor, but they’re mostly just talking points and daily observations. Similarly, the final title card noting Millepied’s resignation after two years indicates there’s more to the story than Demaizière and Teurlai provide, but that’s also fodder for another documentary.
While Reset doesn’t find much in the way of drama, the documentary observes fine moments that highlight the skill and dedication entailed in mounting a production that goes against the grain. Scenes of Millepied dancing and using his grasp of the skills show how the best masters of an art form use their knowledge and experience to teach a new generation of stars. Similarly, Reset offers ample behind-the-scenes glimpses of Millepied fine-tuning the choreography with the dancers before a wall of mirrors to show the physical stamina and artistic precision of the dance. Other scenes of Millepied and his busy assistant—navigating phones and devices like an octopus juggling rubber balls—offer glimpses of the machinery that goes into planning, production, and promoting such a big show.
What Demaizière and Teurlai achieve in addition to fine profile of Millepied is a gorgeous doc that captures the full scope of the artistic process. Both behind the curtain and on the stage, Reset shows a grand orchestration of fancy footwork and synergy. It takes a team and a good leader to execute such an endeavour, and one must say the same of the doc, which dances around the shimmering theatre in exhilarating cinematography by director Alain Teurlai. Teurlai pulls triple duty with the doc’s kinetic film editing alongside Alice Moine and the cutting of Reset brings out the energy, finesses, and physical feat of the show. One doesn’t need all the extra drama when there’s so much to admire on both sides of the curtain. As far as dance docs go, Reset is a grand jeté.
Reset is now playing in Calgary at the Globe Cinema and hits home video in March.