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Overall Rating
3.82

Awesome: 18.18%
Worth A Look63.64%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 18.18%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings


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Three Dancing Slaves
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by Lucas Stensland

"Not Another Queer Lie For The Straight Guy"
4 stars

Gael Morel’s Three Dancing Slaves is not another queer lie for the straight guy. Its inclination to treat the anxieties of homosexuality as subtext instead of text will hopefully be instructive for future gay films. In it one will find truth and understanding about heartbreak, family and mourning presented on a collective level. A 2005 rarity, Three Dancing Slaves gives alt-film fans what they want and what they need.

One early scene cleverly plays with viewer expectation via a metanarrational visual pun. A young boy wildly runs from some motorcyclists and takes refuge at a rundown-looking apartment complex ostensibly on the edge of town. There a group of stringy young men are standing around or leaning against the structure. Their arms and torsos look both muscular and malnourished. The young male physiognomies and stances give the impression of queer boy hustlers. But it is not so. The young men are waiting for a free haircut from one of their own, an in-practice barber. While viewers readied for gay cultural stereotypes, assigned partly by “street” fetishistic indie films, Morel slyly curtails preconceptions and announces one of his film’s primary themes: What do young men living on the edge of society do with their lives?

Set in France near the Swiss border, the landscapes and imagery are dialectically bleak industry and natural beauty, slightly reminiscent of Scotland-set Breaking the Waves. Morel’s family drama reminds of Mike Leigh’s Meantime and Tsai Ming-liang’s The River. Besides observational tenors, their smart sociology and lyrical human drama simultaneously ring true. But unlike those two it has the immediacy of youth films, though none of the fetid hipster aftertaste.

The film is divided into three chapters, each focusing on a different brother. Still mourning their mother’s death, the brothers seek a place in the world with little help from their angry and detached father. Oldest brother Christophe (Stephane Rideau) is newly out of jail and determined to go straight, perhaps in both senses. While toiling in a meat-packing plant he finds his interest piqued by a handsome and dishonest co-worker whose presence is like a siren beckoning him from his newfound conservative and ill-fitting Horatio Alger ideals.

Angry and violent middle-brother Marc (Nicholas Cazale) is a drug dealer who’s being edged out by his competition. After he is beat and humiliated, he begins planning a murder, though his rage isn’t quite matched by his killer instinct. Almost like a whispering angel on Marc’s shoulder is youngest brother Olivier (Thomas Dumerchez), who is trying to distance himself from his family’s repression and self-destruction. Slightly attracted to Marc’s dark and masculine social world, which includes turbulent visits to a cross-dressing prostitute, Olivier falls for Marc’s Arab sidekick Hicham.

This is the kind of queer film that could more effectively affect a homophobe than the grand gay-as-political-issue films so typical of Hollywood, which will most likely only ossify people’s prejudice. To see gay characters simply explore their lives and have internal turmoil linked to family, love and death is surely more honest and universal than merely having characters agonize over their sexual differences. We’ve had and enjoyed Brokeback Mountain, In & Out, Birdcage, etc. They are, however, not good enough. Hollywood is constantly congratulating itself for its liberalism, but will it ever have the insight to make films like The Rundown or Maid in Manhattan with gay principals? Frustratingly, Hollywood Democrats cannot imagine a film with gay protagonists that doesn’t exploit sexual orientation.

Not to say that Three Dancing Slaves neutralizes sexuality. There is homoerotic pleasure not just in its few sexual scenes but often in its very mise-en-scene. Akin to Gus Van Zant’s Elephant, Morel loves to look at attractive boys in the context of a season’s attributes. The film is almost at times an essay on young men’s faces and bodies. Of course eye candy isn’t a cinematic accomplishment in and of itself. Besides the pure visual pleasure of Olivier and Hichman gamboling on a beach, Morel inserts a simple edit that exemplifies and amplifies his modest sense of cinematic flourish: The film cuts from Olivier’s descension into the lake to a young boy playing in the water, highlighting Olivier’s innocence and the third chapter’s brightness and optimism regarding the future.

If Morel can say a lot with a nearly invisible edit, his soft and concise camera movements are just as telling. The sex in the following scene is interrupted by a slow upward pan out a window that focuses on a small fishing boat in the distant water. The minor floating vessel not only serves metaphorically for alienation and the ephemeralness of human contact, it also intimates that even in moments of happiness people can be emotionally adrift. Moreover, this shot juxtaposes the short-lived sexual encounters in the film with the brothers’ disruptive though constant family lives.

While conservative Christophe sacrifices his identity, anarchist Marc explores fruitless destructive paths. Olivier – whose youth, sensitivity and optimism are perhaps emblematic of naïve liberalism -– searches for a healthy alternative. Though maybe Olivier’s liberalism and sensitivity aren’t that naïve after all: As evidenced in Three Dancing Slaves, his journey is the only one worth taking.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11876&reviewer=390
originally posted: 01/12/06 12:28:48
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User Comments

4/14/06 fiai i not yet see the film but i sure this film very good 5 stars
6/30/05 TIM A wonderfull moment with three new great actor . A very good new to french cinema 5 stars
6/18/05 Jim @ Frameline Torturously long and confusing; pretty men. 2 stars
6/10/05 Jorge Pardo-Posse Three young actors worth seeing in action in search of a better script, but is still worth 4 stars
6/02/05 Slim If you can stay awake, they eventually take off their pants 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Sep-2005
  DVD: 13-Dec-2005

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