Just as it was looking like there was nothing to look forward to for summer movie releases other than Disney animation remakes and more Marvel madness, we get a delightful delivery from France. “Rise” (“En Corps”) by filmmaker Cedric Kaplisch (“L’Auberge Espagnole,” “Paris,” “Back to Burgundy”) is a heartfelt and entertaining drama intertwined with just the right amount of humor and imbued with themes of second chances, the life affirming nature of art. Although dance is at its core and a prima ballerina-turned contemporary dancer drives the story, you do not have to particularly like dance to appreciate the story and enjoy this movie.
After 26-year-old ballet dancer Élise witnesses her boyfriend cheating on her just prior to going on stage, she sustains an injury during the performance and is told she will probably never be able to dance again. Between her heartache and the devastating medical news, she loses her purpose. With the help of friends, she finds other temporary work with a caterer that takes her to an artists retreat and rehearsal facility in Brittany. While there, she meets a company of modern dancers. Watching the company’s rehearsal, initially triggers sadness over the seemingly loss of her career and passion, but through the encouragement of these new friends, Elise realizes she can pivot to a new, more forgiving and inclusive form of dance. As a result, the new experiences and friendships rekindle the fire in her.
The differences between the dance forms- classical ballet and modern dance- serve not only as an aesthetically engaging film element, but also as metaphor for life and cliches such as ‘When life gives you lemons…’ and ‘When one door closes, a window opens,’ but probably most apt is this actual line from the movie when Elise is given wise counsel from a new friend: “Make the most of all the lives that life offers.” This message, of course, is specific to Elise, but is a universal theme that people/viewers of all ages can relate to. Although there is not a lot of dialogue throughout Rise, what is there is very well placed and enriched with dance sequences that give the movie an undeniable beauty and energy. Kaplisch has long been known as an actors director, assembling an eclectic cast of characters and casting pitch perfectly for each part. In that, “Rise” is in keeping with his trademark, delivering a talented cast, many of whom are more professional dancers than actors.
While Rise is an ensemble project, most noteworthy is the luminous performance of the film’s protagonist, Marion Barbeau as Elise. She is Première Danseuse from the famous Paris Opera Ballet company. “Rise” is her debut as an actress. She joins the ranks of Marilou Berry, a young opera singer who turned in an impressive debut for “Look at Me” (“Comme Une Image”) in 2004, and ballet star Leslie Browne in “The Turning Point” from 1977. Unlike the latter two, hopefully we will see more of Miss Barbeau on the big screen. But this is not to take anything away from the supporting cast of talented dancers and actors. This includes Hofesh Shechter, dancer, choreograph and composer, plays his own role in the movie. Most of the music comes from one of his shows; Francois Civil who plays the love struck masseuse; Denis Podalydes, Elise’s emotionally detached lawyer father who through much of the movie bemoans his daughter’s artistic career path.
Other significant contributors to the film’s elevation, no pun intended, is the wholly engaging dance sequences, impeccable soundtrack, and often dazzling cinematography. Where many directors have their best work behind them, Kaplisch is actually getting better with age and every subsequent film. This feel good dance movie, with a message may be his best movie yet, and most definitely his best looking.