The Red Shoes ★★★★★

Film #36 of Project 40

”Why do you want to dance?”

What is art? How does it work and what enables it to change the way we perceive the world around us, the way we think and ultimately – and most importantly – the way we behave? The Red Shoes is the perfect movie to discuss or at least think about these confounding questions as the fundamental issue of art’s authenticity and its role in our lives is the key element of both the film’s inner and outer layers. While the stern Boris Lermontov and the emotionally vulnerable Victoria Page are battling with the issue of art and the role it plays in their lives we viewers are experiencing another totally different challenge thanks to the genius of Powell and Pressburger. We are desperately tying to stay in touch with movie’s –eventually – untouchable greatness. This was the first time in a long long time that while watching a film I really felt that depersonalizing greatness of an artistic work, there were moments in the film where I couldn't continue watching, not because it was disturbing or violent or something like that, no, in fact because I felt that I can’t swallow this much perfection, this much elegance and this much excellence. I’m trying to be a bit cautious here but to tell you the truth this might be easily one of the very best films I've ever seen.

The Red Shoes narrates the story of mankind’s fragile soul, a tragic portrait of the fine margin between passion and insanity, between love and hate, between sacrifice and selfishness and a heartbreaking tale of characters who are trapped between those divergent and antagonistic forces. Characters who are struggling with their contrasting desires and as a result of that are cracking from within. This strong emotional aspect is the power unit of the film. We are witnessing the gradual collapse of characters that we love and we have sympathy with. We don’t see any of them as the outright villain, even the harsh and cold-hearted Boris Lermontov is able to attract some compassion. That is the real success of the film, it gives you life itself. No one is terrible, no one is saint, everyone is right and wrong at the same time, it just depends on your perspective. We can’t condemn anyone nor we can’t totally hail anyone and that further enhances the tragic nature of the film. No one’s behavior is totally unacceptable which makes us think why everyone’s going through this much suffering and agony and why no one is feeling happy?

From a technical point of view The Red Shoes is a truly groundbreaking work and one that is still - and after all the technological improvements of the medium - jaw-dropping, the only other movie that I believe can match Powell and Pressburger’s magnum opus in terms of artistic and visual ambition and the ultimate dreamlike quality of pictures is Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. But by mixing various art forms – ballet, music, literature and cinema - The Red Shoes goes one step further and reaches something totally new and once again shows the uniqueness of the directing duo of P & P, they were not just the master of cinema, their perfect and complete understanding enabled them to integrate several art forms into each other and thus create something utterly riveting. Needless to say that you need to have such a precise and deep insight into each and every one of this forms of artistic expression to be able to do what P & P do here.

The films looks absolutely gorgeous with all the beautiful colors that the directors manage to put into the frames, the ballet scene is immensely well-choreographed and well-directed meaning that watching it can lead to some sort of an out of body experience. And as a drama the film is incredibly gripping meaning that once you start watching it you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen for even one second. The characters are presented and developed in the finest way possible and the climax is – to put it simply – unforgettable and will definitely remain with the viewer for sometime.

The Red Shoes is a true artistic masterpiece. Another evidence that Powell and Pressburger were millions of miles ahead of their time both formally and thematically. A movie to die for.

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