Title: The Red Shoes (1948)
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring
When you watch a film like The Red Shoes, there comes a moment when you realize that you are in the presence of a classic film in every sense of the word. It is a tour de force of colors, emotions and great performances. I had it on my must watch list for a while, because I’d read about its classic status, you know, basically its hailed as one of those movies that you have to watch before you die. After watching Aronofsky’s Black Swan I made watching The Red Shoes a priority because they were thematically similar. I’m so glad I finally got to watch this beautiful film!
The Red Shoes tells the tale of a young lady named Victoria Page, she wants nothing more then to dance ballet all her life. She has a passion and a talent for it, but doesn’t belong to any professional ballet group. That is until her mother invites Boris Lermentov, a famous ballet director to a party at her house. Victoria talks with Boris and the conversation leads to Victoria being accepted in ‘Ballet Lermentov’ the most prestigious of all ballet groups. While there, she earns the leading role in a ballet called ‘The Red Shoes’. At the same time, a young music composer by the name of Julian Craster gets accepted into Ballet Lermentov. Julian and Victoria develop a romance that Boris prohibits. He thinks love is a distraction and that anyone who dedicates their life to love will never become a great dancer. What will ultimately be the most important thing in Victoria’s life? Ballet or Love?
This battle between career and love is the main theme of the film. Can a person live a married life and at the same time dedicate their heart and soul to their careers? Or does one exclude the other? This theme is laid out early in the film when Boris Lermentov asks Victoria in one of the most iconic bits of dialog from the film:
Lermontov: “Why do you want to dance?”
Victoria: “Why do you want to live?”
Lermontov: “I don’t know precisely why, but I must”
Victoria: “That is my answer as well”
Her devotion to ballet takes her to great heights. With Lermontov’s guidance and lots of practice she becomes a world renowned ballet dancer. We get to see many of the ballets she performs; the most prominent one being ‘The Red Shoes’. This is really where the film shifts into surreal, dreamlike brilliance. You see when Victoria begins to perform The Red Shoes, we actually get to see the play come to life in a heightened sense of reality, where colors are abundant and vibrant, virtually jumping off the screen. Since this movie doesn’t play by any rules, but rather invents them, this whole ballet sequence lasts for more then 20 minutes. We see the whole story of The Red Shoes develop before our eyes, without a rush to cut to some other part of the story or anything. It unfolds like a fantasy or a fairy tale. The filmmakers simply decided to indulge into the ballet, and it’s really where the film earns its wings as a Bravado piece of filmmaking.
The colors are vibrant in this film!
What’s awesome about The Red Shoes ballet is how perfectly it fits with the whole story of the film itself. You see, The Red Shoes (the ballet) is a story about a girl who puts on these magical red ballet shoes that never allow her to stop dancing. The girl grows restless, but the shoes don’t. The shoes want to dance all the time! Ultimately, the shoes wear the girl down and she dies dancing. So as you can see, the ballet is representative of Victoria’s desire to dance her life away. Lermentov, the ballet director is obsessive with his work, and he doesn’t believe that love should get in the way of ones passion for ballet, or art. He wants to create a ballet that is so monumental that everyone will remember him for all eternity, and he believes that in order to do so, love has to be ignored. The problem comes when Victoria falls in love with Julian, the composer. Can’t Victoria have both love and a career?
For me, the most amazing thing about this film apart from the colors and the surrealism, are the characters. They are so well defined, so passionate. You can tell there was some good writing involved here, this wasn’t some rushed Hollywood production looking to make a quick buck. Nope, this film was lovingly brought to life by people who were as passionate about filmmaking as Lermentov is with his ballet group. The actress who plays Victoria, Moira Shearer was such a beautiful actress. I really coudnt take my eyes off her when she was on screen, so classy and sexy at the same time. Lermontov is this over powering persona, really dedicated to his work. He takes his love for ballet to obsessive heights. He is equal parts hateful, equal parts likeable. These characters are an essential part of what brings this film to vibrant life. And the film is filled with many lively characters like these, the whole ballet group is filled with likable hard working people dedicated to their art. This film shows how a film that has excellence behind every department will bring forth a memorable picture, hence this classic we are talking about today.
The obsessive Boris Lermentov
Comparisons between this film and Aronofsky’s Black Swan are impossible after having seen both films. You can definitely see that Aronofsky was partially inspired by The Red Shoes while making Black Swan. The similarities are there: a girl who is passionate about ballet is accepted into a prestigious ballet group. She gets the lead role. The ballet director is strict and passionate about his work. He finds the girl imperfect, but is willing to give her a chance to become a great dancer. Another similarity is how the ballet comes alive at certain point in the film, making the world of the ballet seem real. The only difference between both films is that The Red Shoes extends these scenes, making the ballet come to life for a longer period of time. There are more similarities, but I’ll let you catch them when you see the film. Black Swan is definitely the darker of the two films, The Red Shoes pits devotion to ones craft vs. devotion to a loved one, while Black Swan is all about Nina’s ambiguity and her frustrating search for perfection. Plus Aronofsky’s film is more of a psychological thriller. It’s interesting how both films are extremely similar and yet extremely different.
In closing, I’d like to say that The Red Shoes is a bonafide classic that should not be missed by any true film fan. It’s a film that elevates filmmaking to its highest expression; films like The Red Shoes remind me why I love watching movies.
Rating: 5 out of 5