BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
SEPTEMBER 24, 2021
“This one brave little bird flew up to the sky, faster and faster; her heart was beating so fast she thought it might burst. But she just kept going. Rebel’s heart, will of steel, eyes set on true north. Until finally, she pierced the blanket with her beak, and a tiny ray of light shone through.”— Kate Sanders (Diana Silvers)
Darren Aronofsky set the bar high for psychological ballet thrillers with “Black Swan.” But, Sarah Adina Smith’s “Birds Of Paradise” sets itself apart with two captivating leading performances. Diana Silvers broke out in “Booksmart” (I also remember her from last year’s “Ava”) and Kristine Frøseth, you may have seen in 2020’s “The Assistant.”
Kate (Diana Silvers) is an American ballet prodigy competing in Paris for a contract with the Opéra national de Paris. But she’s out of place. Kate’s not as disciplined as the other ballerinas, nor does she have the money to buy a new pair of pointe shoes (I had to look it up) every week. Despite a scuffle between them early on, Kate befriends her biggest competition, Marine (Kristine Frøseth). Also American, Marine has spent most of her life in Paris. She has returned to ballet from a hiatus after the suicide of her twin brother.
Kate struggles to keep up with the much more skilled and wealthy ballerinas. Marine grapples with guilt and a growing sense of rebelliousness and uncertainty. Together, they make a pact to help each other succeed.
Sensuality and back-stabbing drive the story, as they tend to do in ballet films (“Center Stage,” anyone?). However, there’s a nice difference here: subjugation by a female perspective with a female writer-director. On top of that, the cinematographer Shaheen Seth ventures into Nicolas Winding Refn’s territory. The neon pinks, purples, and blues used in the “Jungle” nightclub end up making for the film’s most memorable scenes.
A downside to the film is that it often brushes against melodrama. But, a young adult novel is the adapted material, so what do you expect? Also missing is depth, or a tether tying these characters to anything.
Earlier this year, “The Novice” broached the subject of unhealthy obsession in sports. In that film, there was a fully-formed richness to its obsessive main character. You felt her compulsion more, whether through her performance, the editing, the music, or all of the above. In “Birds Of Paradise,” the leads and their motivations feel pretty surface level. A change of heart often feels fickle.
Smith differentiates herself in this space by casting brilliant young leads, offering her unique directorial view, and utilizing a cinematographer who has most certainly seen “The Neon Demon.” She loses steam, unfortunately, in the writing process.
September 24, 2021
Sarah Adina Smith
Sarah Adina Smith
“Bright Burning Stars”
by A.K. Small
(for drug use, sexual content, language and brief nudity)
Diana Silvers … Kate Sanders
Kristine Froseth … Marine Elise Durand
Jacqueline Bisset … Madame Brunelle
Toby Huss … Scott Sanders (voice)
Daniel Camargo … Felipe
Solomon Golding … Luc
Eva Lomby … Gia
Alice Dardenne … Claire
Didier Flamand … Francis Chevalier
Stav Strashko … Valentine Louvet
Gaétan Vermeulen … Jean Paul
Osiel Gouneo … Benjamin Mouton
Nassim Lyes … Jamal
Igone de Jongh … Sarah Barinelli
Maddie Green … Isabelle
Caroline Goodall … Celine Durand
Roger Barclay … Lucien Durand
Béla Unger … Hugo
Glauber Lucas Mendes Silva … Roman
VIEWED: SEPTEMBER 23, 2021
THROUGH FILM INDEPENDENT EARLY SCREENING
Now Available on Prime Video