Thursday, September 25, 2014

Everybody Dance Now

Living Stars

Longtime readers probably realize that my movie writing usually follows a formula: introductory paragraph, synopsis, bulk of the review. I'm going to skip a synopsis of Living Stars (2014, directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat), because it's not a narrative film in any meaning of the word. I mean, technically, it's a documentary, but even that seems to impose certain expectations. What this is is 63 minutes of people dancing to a variety of pop songs. That's it. In spite of its utter simplicity, Living Stars is one of the most joyful and hilarious film experiences I've had in a good long while.

The subjects of this film aren't dancers, per se, though one kid is billed as a dancer in the little title card that accompanies everyone in the film. Most of the people in this film are just ordinary people: students, baristas, waitresses, realtors, doctors. The first dancer we meet is a dentist whose dance moves have an infectious, goofy charm, something that's amplified by the surroundings of his office. He dances around the chair where he treats patients. The filmmakers are particularly taken with him, because he shows up again. They've also included a montage of his equipment over their credit sequence, perhaps ironically. Oh, and he dances to Lionel Ritchie. Other dancers dance to Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, the Spice Girls, etc. Elvis Presley makes the grade after all this time. Twice.

Living Stars

This is a film that challenges any preconceptions one might bring to a film concerning what's a fit subject for movies. Most movies, even documentaries, tell stories. This does not. If I wanted to describe the film in terms of its form, I could mention that it's a long-take documentary with an average shot length of, oh, two and a half minutes, but that would make it sound like drudgery, which it totally isn't. This film is effervescent. Infectious, even. If festival programmers looking at this film are smart, they won't put this in the theater, but rather into one of the after-parties, where people can dance to it.

This film fulfills at least one of the usual functions of cinema: it acts as a looking glass for humanity to contemplate itself. This is not a film for cynics, though, because what it sees in the looking glass is ebullient, ridiculous, joyous, and universal. Living Stars was filmed around Buenos Aires, but it could be anywhere. The range of humanity this looks at is wide, too: young, old, male, female, straight, queer, those who have rhythm, those who are hopelessly without. This last part is important, because it intimates that it doesn't matter if you can dance, you should dance anyway and screw anyone who says otherwise.

Living Stars

The way this frames its dancers sometimes provides a glimpse of families, with the people in the background usually indifferent to the dancing, but other are completely into it. One woman dancing in her kitchen trades off with a woman I presume to be her mother, and it's one of the funniest parts of the movie. Another woman dances in front of her father(?) who is busy welding something behind her. Another man, done up like a cowboy, is set upon by his two small dogs who want in on the action. The dentist who kicks things off is seen unable to resist dancing with his daughter and his wife in two later vignettes. Clearly, that's a happy family.

For myself, I walked out of the theater with a ridiculous grin on my face, happy with my species for a change. I was ready to go find a dance floor and dance my ass off.

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