Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Only When I Dance. (2009) Beadie Finzi

I did not expect a film about ballet to touch me like it did. In fact, when I heard it was about a male dancer, I must admit that my bias kicked in hard. There's no way I wanted to watch, well, whatever I thought this was.

Later, as the tears streamed down my face, I confronted my biases once again.

I'm glad that I'm sometimes wrong. I can't even think of how many times a film looked rotten -- and often I'm right when I get in a certain zone -- but sometimes my zone is crushed, the crushing widening my scope. My prejudicial leanings get realligned -- reinterpreted. Film and friends have always been guides that help me find more good in the world.

Only When I Dance is a heartwarming documentary released via Film Movement this month about kids in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, taking ballet as a serious study and aiming to dance themselves out of poverty. Think of the street kids from Bus 174 (another excellent Brazilian documentary) escaping their thug-like existence and street-wise surroundings by tapping into classical dance, and you're close. But the kids in Only When I Dance are dancing not only for themselves, but for the betterment of their families. If they can get into competitions and win outside of Brazil, not only will they help their families escape the daily grind of the favelas of Rio, but they'll have a shot at the expressive career of their dreams.

And their competitive dances are so lovely, especially the teenage Irlan, whose second dance in Switzerland was off the charts frenetic and wild. He explained the dance and the original rebel artist it was dedicated to, and then took the stage and just let loose with this furious interpretive dance -- it completely shook the audience. It shook me, too, and I'm guessing when you see it, it will shake you as well. It's a film moment you'll remember.

There's great back story here about the lengths the parents go to in getting their kids noticed in a field that is internationally intensely hard to break into. These are parents that dig in deep and take out loans, putting their money where their mouth is -- all with no guarantees, only the hopes and dreams of their child.

But these are no ordinary kids, either. It almost feels right for parents to go into debt for their dreams. These diligent teenagers give all for their craft -- seldom eating and sleeping and skipping Friday night dates to rehearse instead. We root for them from the get-go, because they're inspiring, hard workers from the start.

I did not expect to fall in love with this marvelous film from Brazil, but like so many of our favorite documentaries from the years, it shines because of the energetic and beautiful people in it, capturing them in a crucial moment in life.

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