The Dance

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Dance
"Where most whirlwind romances centre on the erotic, this one finds a real emotional connection, a kind of striving after innocence."

Sometimes the format of a film - or an episode of real life - is clear from the start. There's no opportunity to change events; everything is locked too closely together in a series of actions and reactions. The best one can do, even if ostensibly taking the lead, is to make one's moves with style. Rino Arreaza's haunting début is not intended to surprise, simply to strive for perfection of form and to show us something of the emotional effect of taking part in such a dance.

Irene Esser is Ivanna, a new arrival in Caracas, who registers at a dance school where she practises flamenco. the other dancers are kind to her in person, sharing gossip and joints, but behind her back some of them bitch and say she's talentless. Perhaps there's something in it. Perhaps she's not fully committed to her dancing because she's actually visiting the city for another reason - to assassinate one of its most notorious criminals.

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The financial scandals that bankrupted numerous Venezuelans are relatively little known outside the country, where the media are more interested in focusing on political corruption at the top. Within it, the failure of the authorities to successfully prosecute many of those involved has created a lingering sense of injustice and an appetite for revenge. Ivanna, however, has no personal stake in this. That's what enables her to evade the same level of scrutiny that a local woman would face. It's what gives her the chance to get close to Vincente (Gabriel Agüero), her quarry's son.

30-years-old but sheltered from the world as the privileged often are, Vincente is instantly smitten with the beautiful stranger who joins him for a dance. There's an intrinsic sweetness about him, an openness to the world, that feels like an antidote to the poisonous behaviours around him. Despite herself, Ivanna seems to be genuinely drawn to him. Knowing that completing her mission will probably mean killing him too, she is nevertheless compelled to stay by his side, dancing her part. Knowing that her stay in Caracas is meant to be short, Vincente talks about their affair as if it were a holiday romance which he'd love to follow up in the future, and she feeds this illusion, perhaps as a means of lying to herself or telling herself that it's still meaningful.

When we strive for perfection in a dance, can we still express ourselves? Ivanna experiences doubts about her identity. Is she a natural killer? Is it her true fate, as a woman, to become attached to a man? Is her path now simply a consequence of a brutal incident in her childhood, portrayed in animated for halfway through the running time? Certainties she might have had begin to break down. There are underlying questions here about what it means to be a professional of any kind, to set aside one's emotional and moral self.

Shot in black and white, The Dance gives Caracas' wide skies and spacious architecture an uncharacteristically moody, noirish feel. In place of colour, Arreaza brings out texture, inviting us to focus on the roughness and rawness of life even when it's elegantly framed and fluidly performed. Where most whirlwind romances centre on the erotic, this one finds a real emotional connection, a kind of striving after innocence. The chemistry between the actors seems to open up a world of possibilities that can never be explored.

Graceful and beguiling, this is a dance destined to enthral despite its potent strain of melancholy. Like life, it is no less precious for its ephemerality, no less vital because we know that it will end.


From 1091 Pictures, the film will be available to rent or purchase on 13 October.

Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2020
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The Dance packshot
When Ivanna and Vincente meet, sparks fly - but he doesn't know that she came to town to assassinate his father.

Director: Rino Arreaza

Writer: Rino Arreaza, Javier Linares

Starring: Irene Esser, Gabriel Agüero, Maria Antonieta Hidalgo

Year: 2019

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Venezuela

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