A Cannes Film Festival selection in the Un Certain Regard section, Stephanie Di Gusto’s first feature, The Dancer, is a biopic of famous turn of the century dancer Loïe Fuller. It stars singer/ actress Soko and Lily-Rose Depp (yes, the daughter of…)

The Dancer starts in America at the end of the 19th century, a time where Fuller, an aspiring actress with not much of a future, accidentally gets a shot at dancing. She eventually goes to Paris where she becomes a regular at Folies Bergères and creates her celebrated ‘Serpentine Dance’.

Di Gusto focuses on the tumultuous and the romantic. For what seems like dramatic purpose she explores Fuller’s relationship with dancer Isadora Duncan, apparently a protégé and a rival. The background stories take much, much space and not enough screen time is left for the main subject, dance, or the visionary and elaborate set ups that made Fuller appealing artistically and technically. We get a glimpse of it, of course, but it is overall short on great moments over cheap episodic melodrama. Cinematographer Benoit Debie (Irreversible, Enter the Void) tries his best to save the ensemble, especially in long shots featuring real dancers and with the American landscape in the first part but he can’t do everything alone. Choosing a dancer to play the main part, instead of Soko, would have been a well advised risk. With her terrible peacock voice and total lack of screen presence, it seems the only way for her to display any charisma would be to play a zombie in any horror flick.

Thanks to the infamous brothers Lumière, moving images of the real artist survived to this day, so we can get something valuable out of this.