Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
Directed by: John Malkovich.
Produced by: Andrés Vincente Gómez & Malkovich.
Written by: Nicholas Shakekspeare, based on his novel.
Director of Photography: José Luis Alcaine.
Edited by: Mario Battistel.
Music by: Alberto Iglesias.
Released by: Fox Searchlight.
Country of Origin: Spain/USA (in English). 135 min. Rated: R.
With: Javier Bardem, Laura Morante & Alexandra Lencastre.
DVD Special Features: "Revealing the Dancer Upstairs." The Sundance Channel Featurette. Commentary by Malkovich & Bardem. English, Spanish & French Audio. English & Spanish subtitles. Trailer.
Actor John Malkovich makes his film directorial debut with this handsomely mounted
and restrained production. A former lawyer and now a police detective, Rejas (Bardem) stoically tries
to do the right thing in an unnamed Latin American country with a history of military
dictatorship. With only a threadbare staff and under the watchful eye of the government,
he pieces together seemingly random acts of violence to discover an unknown terrorist
organization intent upon overthrowing the wobbly government. In an homage to the
political thrillers of Costa-Gavras, a scene of the Greek’s director’s State of Siege
is included in a key piece of evidence, a video tape made by the terrorists. At home,
Rejas’s wife, Sylvina (played flamboyantly by Lencastre), is more concerned with plastic
surgery, while his preadolescent daughter, an aspiring dancer, takes ballet classes in the
home of Yolanda (The Son’s Room’s Morante), a strikingly independent, but
emotionally fragile teacher. His wife’s self-involvement leads him to seek advice and
solace from Yolanda, while suspense is steadily created by the fact that the audience knows
more than Rejas, thanks largely to the intercutting of scenes. The cat-and-mouse search
for the terrorists takes a back seat to his psychological drama--the film’s weakest point.
Rejas’ suddenly developed relationship with Yolanda lacks not only chemistry, but the
moment when his feelings towards her change is not apparent. As a result, the audience
doesn’t empathize with him. But thanks to the use of Nina Simone’s haunting version of
“Who Knows Where the Time Goes” and a successfully created sense of place,
Dancer nevertheless resonates.
The DVD special features are, by and large, illuminating. “Revealing the Dancer Upstairs” deals with the facts
behind the fiction. The brief Sundance clip is a concise portrayal of the droll director.
And in the commentary, which begins almost two minutes into the film, Malkovich and
Bardem share fascinating tidbits--on roadkill dogs, being banned in England--and offer
clues on how the film and the role of Rejas were crafted. If only Malkovich could remember names. KT