If Tolstoy were alive today, he might have rephrased the famous first sentence of Anna Karenina to read: “Happy families are all alike; every dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way.”
Faut que ça Danse (Gotta Dance), directed by Noémie Lvovsky, is an ambitious, sprawling free-for-all of a movie, rich in eccentric characters and incident, but what it really boils down to is a portrait of a lovably dysfunctional family. It’s often silly or even irritating, but somehow you can’t help staying interested in these people right to the end, much as you would your own family.
A quick of summary of the “plot”: Geneviève (Bulle Ogier) is a nutcase who long ago left her husband, Salomon Bellinsky (Jean-Pierre Marielle), and lives with her caretaker, a kindhearted African man called Mr. Mootoosamy (Bakary Sangaré). Her apartment is more or less empty because she gives everything away. While she has moments of lucidity, most of the time she is lost in space. No one seems to know what is wrong with her.
Salomon is an anglophile who speaks English to his ex-wife when he visits her, has memorized all of Fred Astaire’s movies and takes tap-dance lessons. A Jew, he refuses to speak about what happened to him during World War II, during which most of his relatives died in Auschwitz.
Their daughter, Sarah, played by the excellent Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, narrates the story and runs back and forth between her two parents, trying to maintain some level of sanity in the family, helped by her steady, sweet rock of a husband, François, (Arié Elmaleh).
Geneviève is running out of money and soon there won’t even be enough to pay the devoted Mr. Mootoosamy’s salary. Salomon, in addition to tap dancing, is busy meeting women through the personal ads. After being rejected as too old by one woman, and rejecting another because she is too old, he rather improbably hooks up with the much younger Violette. (Sabine Azema; is it just me or does everyone find this actress supremely annoying in every role she plays?).
The film has many gratuitous scenes. To illustrate François’s character, for example, Lvovsky shows him training a mouse to run across a wire to reach a piece of cheese (I’m still trying to figure out what that was supposed to tell us about him). That’s about it; for the most of the rest of the film, he stays in the background looking kind and being helpful. Then there’s the scene where Salomon thinks he has had an attack and runs upstairs to the office of a creepy, ancient doctor dressed in military uniform who wants to examine his prostate and warns him of the dangers of having sex with women for a man of his age. This makes for a very surreal parenthesis in the film.
Then there are the dream sequences, the best a black-and-white animation sequence involving a multiplying Hitler, which hint in a rather heavy-handedly Freudian way at what’s going on in the characters’ subconscious worlds.
In the end, Lvovsky seems to be suggesting that dancing cures everything – and maybe she’s right. You forgive the film’s minor irritants because she has taken so much trouble to create vivid, well-rounded characters with many different sides, not all of them pretty.
In his one big speech, François tries to explain to the uncomprehending mother why Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is a great movie (Faut que ça Danse is full of references to other films). fairly summing up this movie as well: “It’s about the family,” he says, “and love…in the family. It’s about the tyranny of the family.”
A word on the music, an important component of the film: it was composed by jazz great Archie Shepp.Favorite