My first session (as the film slots are called) at the NZ Int'l Film Fest was Giselle. Reading the program notes tells me that this ballet was first performed in France (1841) and that this production by The Royal New Zealand Ballet is "universally acclaimed." I chose this film because it was a NZ production and because I like ballet. I should clarify that I like ballet because I think the dancers are amazing athletes not that I like ballet because I know and appreciate the history of ballet as an art form. I'm just throwing that out there so anyone reading this review knows where I'm coming from as a viewer.
Overall, the director did a mostly good job at bringing a stage performance to the screen. Two major party fouls were committed, in my opinion. The first is what can only be described as cut scenes. In between the staged ballet there were scenes of Giselle (Gillian Murphy) and Douchey Suitor (Qi Huan, whose character's name is probably Prince in Disguise or similar) in NY and Shanghai being sad. This did not work for me. The second was performer close-ups/above the waist shots while dancing was going on. The story, such as it was, was not hard to follow so I didn't need close-ups of the acting when there was dancing; it's a ballet! I don't want to miss the dancing. Also, over-acting and heavy make-up are stage necessities, in film they become comical. Bad decision to highlight them.
Giselle is a commoner who loves to dance. Douchey Suitor is a Prince who has disguised himself (for unknown reasons) as a commoner. He sees Giselle and instantly falls in love (natch!) and courts her (i'm using courts loosely as they dance for a few minutes outside her house and the courtship is complete). Turns out he woos her away from a local who we will call Rejected Suitor. Shortly thereafter a party of royals comes picnicking through the countryside near Giselle's house and we get our first view of Douchey Suitor's fiance (hence DOUCHEY Suitor). Later, Rejected Suitor reveals the princeliness of our hero and calls the royals back with the special Royal Calling Horn the prince had hidden away earlier. Giselle is so sad she dances herself to death. Well, that's unfair, they were not her best dances so perhaps she was despondently dancing and then could never snap out of it and so died. (I think I prefer that second interpretation since everyone stood around and watched her and I'd like to think they would have stopped her from exercising herself to death.) End Act One.
I enjoyed the second act much more because there was more dancing (less acting/story) which was why I was there. The second act is full of a bunch of female wraiths who had such uninteresting lives that when they were left nearly/at the alter they died and have been dancing forever in the afterlife. So, not the most interesting cast of characters for the second act but I loved the dancing. Leading Wraith was phenomenal. She and her Wraith Chorus performed several beautiful sets (or whatever they are called) and spent the rest of the time alternately rejecting and judging Wraith Giselle for dancing with Douchey Suitor now that she's a wraith. There was a bizarre section where Rejected Suitor was harassed by the wraiths. I didn't really get that. Other than not taking rejection graciously he really didn't do anything that should warrant wraith harassment. Oh well. The dancing in the second act was well worth any weird story stuff. Huan's character might have been douchey but he was a powerful dancer (I found it very difficult to stop staring at his rugby thighs) with amazing grace. Murphy was also quite good (though I found her to be overshadowed by Leading Wraith in the second act) so I got what I went for: ballet dancing.
Now I'm off to watch a French film about a horse show jumper. I'll report back on that one later. For now, the Giselle trailer is below and here's a cool ballet dancer link I coincidentally saw today.