The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes ★★★★★

If you want pretty ballet, go to The Red Shoes. This a dazzling and lush Technicolor spectacle by British vanguards Michael Powel and Emeric Pressburger. They are responsible for more visual grandeur from the 1940’s than most directors were ever able to half muster (see “The Thief of Baghdad,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “Black Narcissus” among others). Redhead Moira Shearer, svelte and lissome as well as demonstrative of perfect verticality on her toes, is arguably the greatest dancer who ever lived.

Anti-sentimentalists might find it starts off too goody-goody. But beneath the placid veneer is a tale of jealousy and backstabbing of one ballet company impresario whose tyrannical instinct is to break up love and the private life of prima ballerina Victoria, who works under him. Boris (Anton Walbrook) wants absolute obedience and control of those who scuttle within his theater company. Victoria wants world-renown success but also wants the love of composer Julian (Marius Goring). She is wrangled between two forces that bequeath unfair ultimatums.

The movie’s centerpiece is a 14-minute Hans Christian Andersen ballet which uses morphing settings, pink-tinged smoke, mirror illusions and levitating magic against painted impressionistic backdrops, and once done, all I can say is that it evokes a “Wizard of Oz” wonderland – certainly this is one of the most supremely lavish sequences ever filmed; an avante garde visual spread implementing the arts of dance, movement, composition, and color design.

The ending is something of a woman under possession, I find her delirious for that moment when her body moves in haste and recklessness. A beautiful but agonizing film (and a tad too long), yet The Red Shoes is an everlasting classic.

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