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Review - Three Dancing Slaves (2005)
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THREE DANCING SLAVES (**1/2 out of ****)

Reviewed by Tim Sika

Three Dancing Slaves marks actor-turned-director Gael Morel’s foray into the world of familial masculine angst. Set in a rural French city, the story follows three brothers trying to cope with the death of their mother while living under the domineering, abusive hand of their widowed father. Unresolved loss permeates the film.

The youngest brother, Olivier (Thomas Dumerchez), is quiet and shy and struggling with his emerging homosexuality. Middle brother, Marc (Nicholas Cazale), is caught up in bodybuilding, drug dealing, transsexual sex, rebellion and machismo. He hopes his older brother, Christophe (Stephane Rideau), about to be released from prison, will help him avenge wrongs suffered at the hand of rival thugs. But the newly reformed Christophe intends only to go straight and build a respectable life as he takes a lowly job in a meat processing factory with the intention of being promoted. The film’s title takes its cue from Capoeira street dancing (which originated from slavery) practiced by Marc’s best friend, Hicahm (Salim Kechiouche), to whom younger brother Olivier is physically attracted.

Striking concepts abound in the film. Though its sense of family angst and grief is immediate and palpable, its thematic relevance remains curiously elusive. Director Morel provides precious little information or indications that go beyond the surface. The viewer may be expected to fill in the blanks. One suspects though that there is more here than meets the eye, yet it is difficult to ascertain just exactly what that is.

Morel had previously starred in Andre Techine’s pivotal Wild Reeds and one presumes a heavy Techine influence on this film. Yet the two films are stylistically and tonally dissimilar.

Jean-Max Bernard’s cinematography is arresting. The camera tightly frames the characters that the effect is nearly claustrophobic. Oddly enough this close physical proximity does little to reveal further thematic intentions of the script. Indeed, the so-called money shot of the three brothers sleeping together naked, while their father curiously looks on at them, their bodies and limbs intertwined so that each is indistinguishable from the others, is part of the film’s theme and mystery.

The film’s stabilizing factor comes from the responsible actions of eldest brother, Christophe (Rideau is also a Wild Reeds veteran) which contrasts with middle brother Marc’s behavioral ineptitude and confusion (bringing as it does, no small amount of trouble and tragedy). The young Olivier’s unfolding sexuality has a sweetness and gentleness even as it remains remote.

Homoeroticism is prevalent in this heavily male cast, though its unbridled-ness less than the ads would lead you to expect. This film--more a coming of age story than a sex story—remains nevertheless a story reluctant to yield its secrets or its emotional center.

Three Dancing Slaves is always interesting. Its level of profundity is perhaps limited only by Morel’s burgeoning, still green, cinematic language and communicativeness. Perhaps the viewer is indeed meant to fill in the gaps. Or perhaps this film is really just an intriguing portent of this decidedly intriguing young director’s rich output to come.

2005 Tim Sika/ Celluloid Dreams

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