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FILM REVIEW: If It Were Love ( Si c’était de l’amour) – The BFI London Film Festival 2020

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Patric Chiha

This year’s BFI London Film Festival, reduced and mostly online, hasn’t put a step wrong, until, ironically enough, its presentation of a film about dance, If It Were Love. This French documentary, detailing the rehearsals of a dance choreographed by Gisèle Vienne, is ponderous and slow, and the viewer is denied the full drama happening both on and off stage.

Crowd is based on the 90s Rave scene and it begins well with the dancers in the wings being sprayed with water, so that when they go on stage they will appear slick with sweat. But as they file out of camera shot, the film then travels back to a rehearsal. At first it seems as if we are watching the film in slow motion, until it becomes apparent that the dancers are moving incredibly slowly to the electronic score. When the music stops we hear Vienne coaxing her dancers to go even slower; ‘don’t accelerate’, she tells them constantly.

Later these slo-mo steps are punctuated with sharp twitches that the dancers perform in unison, and, in the film’s only secret, the purpose of these twitches is not revealed until the final frames of the 80-minute film. A narrative runs through Crowd too, but it’s difficult to follow as the viewer is only given the bare threads of it. At the party some kind of assault occurs between Katya and Theo, while one male character falls in love with another man.

Each dancer has been given notes on their character and is expected to build upon these fragments to create a more fully realised identity. One dancer reimagines his character as a trans man who meets an old school friend at the party, while another dancer believes that his character is entering a party that will end all others. But even with this information the plot of the dance is unclear.

Likewise, the dramas between the dancers themselves are never fully explored, and the viewer is only allowed glimpses of the jealousies and camaraderie of the performers are they prepare in the dressing room. All these half-stories make for frustrating viewing, and while the shots of the dance look nothing short of stunning, they can’t sustain the running time, and would be more suited to a short film.

It’s proved very difficult to capture the Rave scene in a film. While Human Traffic (1999), Weekender (2011) and Beats (2019) are entertaining depictions of acid house parties, ecstasy, and community it’s only the French film Eden (2014) that has come close to documenting the dance scene authentically, but that is more about Garage than it is about Rave. As a failed Rave film, If It Were Love fits the bill, but only in its last minutes as the viewer becomes aware of what Vienne is trying to capture with those twitches.

It may work as a dance film for aspiring performers who want to know what happens backstage, but even they may be disappointed in the awkward scenes between dancers. It seems odd that director Patric Chiha refuses to present the whole dance in the film, especially when the back stage action is as uninteresting as it is. If It Were Love is this year’s disappointment.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October

The Reviews Hub Score

A disappointment

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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