Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Don't forget, a great impression of simplicity can only be achieved by great agony of body and spirit."

Film: The Red Shoes
Year: 1948
Writer/Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Starring: Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Anton Walbrook, Leonide Massine, Robert Helpmann, Albert Bassermann, Ludmilla Tcherina, Esmond Knight.
Running time: 133 min.
NOTE: There may be spoilers in this review. Sorry.

As I said in my review of Sunrise, cinema is one medium which never fails to amaze me. As you may or may not know, I am quite the fan of classic films, particularly those made before the mid-50s. I just feel like they have so much more to offer than other films, as they were made just as cinema was become a huge thing. That meant that the film-makers could experiment with their unique and fresh ideas, paving the way for many more film-makers in the future. They were the true inventors, as they didn't have computers or fancy technology to do the hard work for them. They figured out a way to do it. This is part of the reason why I loved The Red Shoes so much. The film, written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (who had made Black Narcissus the year before), is shot in glorious Technicolour, which was a rarity in 1948, even though it had been around for quite some time. Everything looks pretty mainstream and normal for this film until it gets to the 15 minute ballet sequence showing the production of 'The Red Shoes', a fairytale written by Hans Christian Andersen and the story in which the movie is partially based upon. It is then that the movie becomes a visual treat, with the ballet sequence becoming one of the most beautiful things that my eyes have ever seen.

Not unlike last year's Black Swan, The Red Shoes adopts a story-within-a-story device. Scottish ballerina Moira Shearer, in her acting debut, plays Victoria 'Vicky' Page, a talented dancer from a high-end family who is invited to dance the lead part in Boris Lermantov's (Anton Walbrook) 'The Red Shoes'. While preparing to perform in this show, she falls in love with the orchestral coach Julian Craster (Marius Goring). Vicky becomes a big success with The Red Shoes and becomes the lead dancer in Lermantov's company. But when Lermantov learns of the affair between his dancer and Craster, he becomes quite angry as Craster may be distracting her from her dancing. So Vicky must choose between her two loves: to dance or to marry and live happily ever after with Craster?

References to the original story of 'The Red Shoes' are scattered throughout the film. In the ballet that Vicky performs in, her character is drawn to some beautiful red shoes. Despite her boyfriend trying to lure her away from them, she fights back and eventually gets them. As she dances about in these shoes, she forgets about her boyfriend and dances with everyone else. But soon the shoes take over her and she can't stop dancing and dancing until she eventually dies, all because of these red shoes. This story parallels Vicky's story. Lermantov asks her why she wants to dance. She replies, "Why do you want to live?" She has this compulsive desire to dance, and she will dance. When she puts on those red shoes, she has a compulsive desire to dance about in them. But as she dances along, that desire fizzles out and she wants to stop but she can't. In her real life, she continues to dance until Lermantov fires her for marrying Craster. From then on, her desire to dance is marred by the fact that she's living a happy life with Craster, but in the back of her mind there's something trying to lure her back to the world of dancing: just like the part in the ballet where she is trying to get the shoes and in the window you can see her reflection pulling her in. In the end, the ballet's story and the film's story clash, with unbelievably tragic results. And next to the amazing ballet sequence in the middle of the film, the final sequence is the one of the most beautiful, yet devastating things to ever grace the screen.

The Red Shoes, on every level, is a wondrous achievement. It has the right mix of everything: the fairytale of Vicky meeting her Prince Charming and the reality of staying with her work; the parallels between the ballet and Vicky's life; and the pain and agony that the ballet calls for which is slightly relieved by Vicky's love for Craster. Vicky is a great female character, backed with a brilliant debut performance from the beautiful Moira Shearer, who is ambitious, driven, elegant, lovely...she's basically everything, which is something which isn't seen that often in a female character. From the very beginning I was drawn into her and the film's passionate story-telling, which was often hard to look away from. What was also hard to look away from is the way the film looks. The art direction and cinematography is perfect. The Technicolour is used to its absolute advantage, bringing out the both exquisite and fatal red of the shoes, and the incredibly gorgeous scenery of Monte Carlo.

But the film's greatest achievement, as I said, was the amazing ballet sequence in the middle. There were just little things that made it special, like Vicky jumping into the red shoes, her dancing with a paper figure which then turned out to be another dancer, Vicky trying not to be lured in by her reflection in the window, Craster seemingly walking onto the stage but once he hits the spotlight he is actually the boyfriend in the ballet, and the amazing art direction that transports Vicky to wondrous places while she tries to stop dancing. All of these things don't exactly look flawless; they look amazing for when they were made. They could have achieved perfection through the CGI that we used today, but then they wouldn't have been so special. I'm a sucker for old-fashioned tricks, which is why my eyes were wide and sparkling while watching this movie. Seriously, if I were going to a desert island and I could only take three movies, this one would definitely be one of them. I just adore it...and this is definitely going to be one of those movies which I make my children watch!

What I got:


  1. I have wanted to see this for a while. Another GREAT film that is similar to this and BLACK SWAN is Roman Polanski's terrifying REPULSION. I definitely recommend that one. And, if you want to get a bit darker, there's my 5th favourite film of all time, Michael Haneke's THE PIANO TEACHER, which is also a masterpiece that deals with similar themes.

  2. Since you say this has spoilers, I only skimmed the review, but I soo want to watch this. It looks brilliant. I always get so sad thinking I never learned ballet. It looks so beautiful.
    I think I will watch all the films that Tyler has written about and then watch Black Swan after.

  3. Repulsion is an amazing film (argh, more films that I keep remembering I should have added to my Top 100 film list!), but, though I can see the sort of similarities with those three films, they are all completely different.

    Since I didn't dig Black Swan, it kind of - in a way - irks me that the comparisons with The Red Shoes will probably remain, but if it gets more people seeing the film, well, needless to say I'll be stoked about that, because it is a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

    I do have to disagree about the ballet sequence sort of making the whole film, as, to me, it plays out as being a lot more than that.

    Either way, I am so glad you watched, and loved it!

  4. I have to see this film, it's been lying on my DVD shelf for over a year now. Great review, definetly will speed up the process of me watching it :)

  5. Like everyone says here, it has been in my Netflix Queue for quite some time. Looks like I need to get to it.

  6. Getting that film from the Criterion DVD makes me proud to own a copy of what is truly one of the best films ever.

  7. Tyler - The Red Shoes and Black Swan are only alike because of their use of the 'story within a story' device. Otherwise, they're totally different. Still, I will check out Repulsion and The Piano Teacher sometime!

    Nikhat - After I watched this, I wished I did ballet. Unfortunately, I don't have the physique or the dedication for that :/

    Cherokee - Yup, they're all different!
    I only saw those two being comparable by their story-within-a-story device and obviously, the ballet. Otherwise, they're really different.
    I went on a bit too much about the ballet sequence, but I didn't think it made the film! I just think that it was really special, but there was a lot more going on in it.

    Sati - Watch it! Seriously, you won't regret it.

    SDG - Yes, you do!

    Steven - Lucky! I'm just glad that I have a copy of it, even if it only cost me $7.

  8. So I saw it, and loved it. I feel that Julian was a bit of a bitch though. Like Boris points out, I highly doubt he would have given up music for her.
    I think it's a lovely tale about an artist's life, and the choice between the art and the real world pleasures. If this was not based on Red Shoes, the story, I would have liked to see Vicky go back to the stage and dance away. But having said that, I love the empty spotlight thing, showing that an artist's works live much after them.

    Great review again :D

  9. Julian WAS a bit of a bitch.
    The empty spotlight thing was so heartbreaking, but so beautiful.
    I'm glad you saw it, and loved it! It's such a brilliant film.

  10. I also just skimmed the review - this is a must-watch for me, as I take ballet classes myself and I loved Black Swan. Plus, I've heard from other people as well, that this film is supposed to be amazing.

  11. Thank you for the review! I will definitely find this.
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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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