Truth and Movies

Isadora’s Children

Review by Josh Slater-Williams @jslaterwilliams

Directed by

Damien Manivel

Starring

Agathe Bonitzer Julien Dieudonné Manon Carpentier

Anticipation.

Damien Manivel’s Le Parc showed a penchant for experimental narratives.

Enjoyment.

Utterly transfixing once you’re on its wavelength(s).

In Retrospect.

A very moving, tender expression of art resonating through generations.

Damien Manivel’s drama captures the grace and poise of pioneering choreographer Isadora Duncan.

Among the most influential figures in dance of the 20th century, Isadora Duncan faced a horrible tragedy in 1913 when her infant children both drowned while in the care of their nanny as their runaway car plunged into the Seine. During her grieving process, Duncan choreographed a three-part piece called ‘Mother’ as a means to express her heartbreak.

Written and directed by former dancer and acrobat Damien Manivel (who won the Best Director prize at Locarno in 2019), the delicate and deliberately-paced Isadora’s Children is cut into three distinct parts, each exploring how the lives of three sets of women – all of different ages and backgrounds – are touched by ‘Mother’.

In the first section, a pensive young choreographer (Agathe Bonitzer) feels her way through the piece’s movements and studies Duncan’s writings. The second concerns a more talkative older dance teacher (Marika Rizzi) and her early teens student (Manon Carpentier) rehearsing ‘Mother’ for a recital. After that performance (which is unseen), the final stretch follows an elderly audience member (Elsa Wolliaston) moved to tears by what she has seen. Manivel captures her solitary journey home and observes how ‘Mother’ sticks with her long into the night.

Wolliaston, who plays the concluding part’s unnamed protagonist, is in real life a choreographer living in France, attributed with helping develop contemporary African dance in mainland Europe in the 1970s.

In the context of the film, she’s not presented as having any apparent ties to dance in a professional capacity, but as someone so deeply touched by the evocation of maternal grief that she’s inspired to perform ‘Mother’ from memory in her home, her sole audience being any spirit linked to the young boy in a framed photograph next to which she lights a candle.

In a film filled with a palpable, intense love for the desire to emotionally connect to art, this finale proves transcendent.

Published 3 Sep 2020

Tags: Damien Manivel Isadora’s Children

Anticipation.

Damien Manivel’s Le Parc showed a penchant for experimental narratives.

Enjoyment.

Utterly transfixing once you’re on its wavelength(s).

In Retrospect.

A very moving, tender expression of art resonating through generations.

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