(director/writer: Raymond Rouleau; screenwriter: René-Louis Lafforgue; cinematographer: Claude Renoir; editor: Marinette Cadix; music: Mikis Theodororakis; cast: Ludmilla Tchérina (Isa), René-Louis Lafforgue (Barker), Milko Sparemblek (Manuel), Milenko Banovitch (Diego), Stevan Grebal (Grebelito), Roberto (Dwarf), Jean-Pierre Bras (Father), Antoine Marin (Pablo), Jean Saudray Cyclist); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; Janus Films/Kultur International Films; 1962-France-in French with English subtitles)

Arguably the best ballet film ever.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Arguably the best ballet film ever, and that includes The Red Shoes (1948). Its arty stage sets remind one of a Picasso painting, during his ‘blue period.’ Artistic French director Raymond Rouleau (“The Crucible”/”Rose”/”The Messenger”) creatively utilizes the brilliant talent of the internationally renown dancer Ludmilla Tchérina, while also getting the most out of a scintillating score by Mikis Theodororakis, creative choreography from co-star Milko Sparemblek and marvelously modern fantasy and color camera work from cinematographer Claude Renoir. The screenplay by Rouleau and René-Louis Lafforgue is dramatically impactful. In fact, everything about this masterpiece is a joy to behold.

The film takes shape as a play within a play, as the actions of the play are parallel to the real-life situation of the performers.

Isa (Ludmilla Tchérina) is the star dancer of a traveling gypsy dance troupe performing ballet dramas in the street. other theater people include a dwarf (Roberto), a barker (René-Louis Lafforgue), and the dancers Grebelito (Stevan Grebal) and Manuel (Milko Sparemblek). The troupe performs “The True Adventures of the Lovers of Teruel,” which is based on an ancient folk tale about the unhappy Duchess Isabelle of Teruel (Ludmilla Tchérina) and her ill-fated lover Don Diego (Milenko Banovitch). It points out that often art imitates life, as just like the play Isa dances every night in the public square and is engaged to someone she doesn’t love–the jealous conniving Manuel. The agreement made between them is that Isa would wait not longer than three years and a day to see if the dancer lover who jilted her, Diego, will return and make her a happy bride and if he doesn’t she will be free to marry Manuel. When Diego returns in the nick of time, believing he’s now worthy of marrying Isa, the crazed would-be groom Manuel fatally stabs Diego with a dagger. The troubled Isa can’t distinguish the tragic play from real life and in a deranged mind-set takes her life. In the end, she’s buried side by side with Diego.

The experimental pic, a great example of an artistic voyage into phantasmagoria, leaves us to wonder if Isa’s a victim of fate or perhaps the reincarnation of the sad duchess.

REVIEWED ON 2/13/2013   GRADE: A+