Review: If It Were Love

Directed by Patric Chiha, written by choreographer Gisèle Vienne, following the touring cast of her dance piece on the 90s rave scene, and how moving from theatre to theatre blurs the lines between life and art. Starring: Kerstin Daley-Baradel, Sylvain Decloitre, Philip Berlin, Marine Chesnais, Sophie Demeyer, Katya Petrowick and Massimo Fusco.

Coming at a time where audiences are starved of theatre, holding out for the day that they can once again sit and witness acts brought to life on the stage, it’s possible that this documentary couldn’t have had a more timely arrival. Especially as its key feature is exploring the show itself, while it’s intentions may be to look at the larger picture, the majority of its 88-minute run time is dedicated to the dancing, rehearsal and performances. That’s where the division begins, the success of the documentary depends entirely on your perspective of what you want to get out of it, in a time of little theatrical delight to be had, it may tick the boxes completely but as a wider exploration of the dancers and their experience of touring, it could entirely fall short.

The film jumps right into the dancing without any real set-up or introduction to provide more context to the documentary, it would have been great to get a little bit of information parcelled in with the visual. Its style befits more a making of featurette than a full documentary, it’s intensely focused on the performances and its use of the more behind the scenes elements, such as exploring the relationships of its dancers, sadly feel very minimal. The consequence of that then becomes that it’s as if you’re getting a preview of a show that you can’t finish watching or get the full understanding of, which takes away from the tone and energy that its visual brings.

Problems with the timing and format aside, it’s undeniable that the film is packed full of atmosphere, it brings through a very sexual energy and a palpable tension which is entrancing. Its use of colour mixed with the direction and Vienne’s choreography definitely give an example of the intense and superb quality to the performances and the show overall. Its style is experimental and it does have something to offer but it steps so far away from the documentary format that it can almost no longer categorise itself that way. It’s a divisive quality, some viewers may feel that the experience alone is enough and others will be left feeling like they’re missing part of the picture.

If It Were Love has a stunning, tension filled atmosphere that’s supported by an entrancing visual but while it’s a shining endorsement for the show itself, it doesn’t feel as though it’s providing much else. It’s akin to a preview and doesn’t spend enough time interacting with its dancers off the stage, there was a larger perspective to be found that it didn’t reach. It’s visually fantastic but it’s offering you too little and makes itself ultimately forgettable.

Verdict: ✯✯

Available now exclusively on Mubi

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2020

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