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Saturday, September 27, 2003



THE COMPANY

Written by Neve Campbell and Barbara Turner
Directed by Robert Altman
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


I remember coming out of a movie theater about a decade ago thinking, man, Robert Altman is still able to get it done. The movie was The Player and Altman was already approaching 70. I didn’t think I’d say the same thing 10 years later, but I still say it now. The Company is Altman’s latest. A non-narrative look at the Joffrey Ballet Company in Chicago. Part documentary—part not. He’s taken a few actors and mingled them in with the real dancers to give the audience a glimpse into the life of a professional dancer.

The “story” focuses on Neve Campbell, who is the one who got this project off the ground, and who is also an accomplished dancer herself, but the movie is not about characters, the movie is about dance, specifically that modern/ballet hybrid that the Joffrey Ballet is known for. Never before has Altman let his stories take such a back seat like this, but he’s somehow been able to make the backdrop the focus and still keep me interested. There are quite a few well-photographed dance numbers featured in the film, some seem to comment on things going on in life of the focal character, Ry (Campbell), and some don’t, but all of them are worth watching for the sheer artistry of the performances.

I think Altman is able, with the help of the non-actor cast, to convey that sense of unequaled dedication and perseverance that dancers have for their art. Theirs is a communal life, sequestered backstage and always sharpening their craft, and their personal life often suffers for it. But still, this is their job, some people drive a cab, these people turn their bodies into works of art and do seemingly impossible and beautiful things. Then they go bowling, where they are as awkward as anyone else.

Malcolm McDowell plays the flamboyant director of the company, Alberto Antonelli, who rules with a velvet fist: smooth, smarmy, often changing his mind on a whim--but what he says goes. McDowell’s character is reminiscent of Anton Walbrook’s Boris Lermontov in the king of ballet movies, The Red Shoes, although not quite as classy. He’s the puppet master holding the strings, subordinating the wishes and dreams of any single dancer to the particular needs of each show. The dancers are tools, if one breaks (an ankle, say) she is simply and unceremoniously replaced by another—the show must go on. Altman even seems to be doing the same: subordinating the story to the shows themselves.

As I said, there is no story to speak of, but it does tend to drift to Neve Campbell once in a while, who begins dating a chef played by James Franco. This small side-story features very little dialog (a jarring change from Altman’s habit of overlapping dialog in large groups of people) and is told visually in little vignettes, and told well. I found the relationship to be very sweet. We’d like to see Ry and Josh work out, but Ry is married to her profession, which may spell doom in the end.

The ending came a bit too soon, I could have gone a little longer, but that’s better than the alternative. I’ve been tossing around the idea of seeing a ballet, and this film has moved me a little farther toward the idea.