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Rise

Rise,” from French filmmaker Cédric Klapisch, is not blazingly original by any stretch, and any moviegoer paying even the slightest amount can predict most of the plot's moves. And yet, something is to be said about presenting a familiar narrative in a straightforward and undeniably entertaining manner. That is what Klapisch has done here, aided in no small part by the engaging central performance by Marion Barbeau, a lead dancer for the Paris Opera ballet making a striking dramatic debut.

Barbeau plays Elise, a lead dancer with the Paris Opera. During the extraordinary and almost entirely dialogue-free extended sequence that opens the film, we see her backstage preparing to go on during a performance of La Bayadere when she spies her boyfriend canoodling in the corner with another dancer. This naturally proves to be both upsetting and distracting, and while she dances beautifully for a few minutes, she makes one wrong move and takes a fall, resulting in a serious ankle injury. Unfortunately for her, this isn't the first time she has hurt her ankle. And since she didn’t quite complete the required treatment the last time around, her injuries could require surgery that would require her to give up dancing for two years. Since Elise is 26, such a restriction would mean her career's end.

While despairing about her situation and trying to figure out what she can do with her life if dancing is no longer an option, Elise agrees to go with a couple of friends to an artist's colony in Brittany, where she will assist them with the catering. Currently in attendance at the colony is the contemporary dance company led by real-life choreographer Hofesh Shechter (playing himself), and when he spots Elise watching them rehearse while peeling carrots, he invites her to join in with them. At first, Elise demurs—besides the injury, the more grounded approach favored by Shechter’s troupe is far removed from what she has studied all her life. But before long, Elise finds herself training with them and using the troupe’s communal approach to dance and life as a way of helping her to move on with her life.

As I said before, “Rise” is not exactly bursting with shocking and unexpected plot developments—with a few adjustments, the screenplay by Klapisch and co-writer Santiago Amigorena could have made for one of those “Breakin’” movies back in the day. However, whatever "Rise" may lack in ingenuity, it makes up for in sheer craft, energy, and professionalism. Klapisch has always been a bit of a hit-or-miss filmmaker—specializing in romance-tinged whimsies that are delightful when they work, such as his lovely “When the Cat’s Away,” and slightly excruciating when they don’t, like the recent “Someone, Somewhere”—but this is one of his stronger and more satisfying works.

Over the years, Klapisch has directed many projects revolving around dance. He can so immerse viewers into that particular world that even those with no frame of reference to the art form can appreciate both the beauty of the performances and the incredibly hard and painful work that goes into creating something so seemingly effortless. Not all of the dramatic gambits work here—the character of the befuddled father could have used more development, and there's a running joke about the two friends of Elise whose endless squabbles are punctuated by a shot showing their camper a-rocking that never quite comes off. But the dance sequences are put together so beautifully that most viewers will easily forgive the story's more cliched aspects. 

However, the most winning element of “Rise” by far is the performance by Barbeau as Elise. Most of the time, when someone is trying to make a narrative film about serious dancers, they have to choose one of two options—cast a straight dramatic performer and either bring in real dancers as doubles or hope that they can be trained well enough to be convincing or cast a real dancer and hope that they can handle dialogue as deftly as their Arabesques. In casting Barbeau, Klapisch has hit the jackpot. Obviously, she's more than convincing in the dance scenes, especially in the ones where she finds herself trying to retrain her body and mind to the approach favored by Shechter and his troupe. However, Barbeau is just as good in the scenes in which she isn’t dancing—she shows a lot of charm and charisma throughout and demonstrates none of the stiffness or self-consciousness that sometimes occurs when a star in one particular art form is suddenly placed in front of a movie camera. One could argue that she is essentially just playing herself, but that would short-change her efforts here. Yes, her role here is certainly informed by her day job (especially in the scenes where she deals with her injury and its aftermath). Still, there's a lot more to it than that. This is a complete bit of acting on her part that helps transform what could have been a mere trifle into something surprisingly compelling.

Obviously, those interested in dance, especially ballet, will want to check out “Rise”—perhaps they can make it a double feature with Robert Altman’s equally incisive “The Company.” But even if your exposure to dance is limited to occasionally coming across “The Red Shoes” or “Flashdance” on cable, there's still a lot to like here. 

Now playing in theaters. 

Peter Sobczynski

A moderately insightful critic, full-on Swiftie and all-around bon vivant, Peter Sobczynski, in addition to his work at this site, is also a contributor to The Spool and can be heard weekly discussing new Blu-Ray releases on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing network.

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Rise movie poster

Rise (2023)

Rated NR

117 minutes

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