The Opulent “Dancer” Features Stunning Choreography and Some Dodgy History

This film about legendary performer Loie Fuller plays fast and loose with the truth, but it does have its moments


Call it a bio-fic, this opulent first feature from Stéphanie Di Giusto. It looks like a commercial for feminine hygiene products, betraying Di Giusto’s background as an art director. It features stunning cinematic re-creations of the choreography of Loie Fuller, a fin de siecle performer who harnessed the magic of fabric and light and became the toast of belle epoque Europe. But it utterly upends the truth of Fuller’s life, and smears another matriarch of modern dance, Isadora Duncan.

French pop star–turned-actor Soko, not herself a dancer, got weeks of intensive coaching from American choreographer Jody Sperling, a specialist in the work of Fuller, née Mary Louise Fuller of Illinois. Soko is onscreen constantly throughout the film, witnessing the violent death of her father on a Western ranch, suffering the oppression of her straitlaced mother in Brooklyn, scheming the technology (and stealing the cash) required to realize her brilliant, angelic visions at the Folies Bergère. She finally gets her wish — a gig at the Paris Opera — only to fall apart physically at a crucial moment.

Most of the Paris theater scenes are shot in Prague, and most of the biographical stuff is fiction. Fuller was gay, and the film plays up the strong feelings her assistant (Mélanie Thierry) has for her. But it takes a working relationship she had with the ample brunette dance revolutionary Isadora Duncan, who did study with Fuller, and turns it into a crush on a nubile blonde played by the too-young Lily-Rose Depp, who here feigns affection for the heroine to finagle a better contract. This and other evasions of fact render the project suspect, but the chance to observe Fuller’s genius realized onstage almost redeems it.

Completing the cast are several men, one an impotent, addicted count (Gaspard Ulliel) whose purloined money bankrolls her initial projects; she later winds up supporting him. The strength of the film is its portrait of a female artist at work, doing all the complex backstage and business chores her career requires.

The Dancer
Directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto
Pacific Northwest Pictures
Opens December 1, Village East Cinema and Landmark at 57 West