Backlog #16: The Red Shoes (1948)

This is a brilliant piece of work, but I didn’t take to it. Simply put, it was too fantastical and full of artifice for my taste. And I found the tragic climax jarring (although logical enough, given the tone of the film).

The main characters were beautiful, talented and aristocratic, which also jarred with me (being none of those things), but seriously, I didn’t feel any empathy with them (maybe this is due to the film’s age and that this scenario was within a world fighting for its survival five years earlier). I have no affinity for ballet either, so the spectacular sequence of the ballet in the centre of film, I could only appreciate from an aesthetic and not a technical viewpoint. And Monte Carlo is not a setting I can emphasise with much (not knowing that it was a centre of ballet) – it certainly isn’t a background for a tragedy.

My churlish objectives now stated, I can state that The Red Shoes is a glorious film, vivid and dream-like at its best. Anton Walbrook is as majestic as you would expect – Lermentov is an outrageous character but he’s totally convincing. I’ve found that films which dramatise the mechanics and business of productions aren’t always subjectively satisfying (as I state above I’m not a ballet-head), but The Red Shoes is satisfying in this respect.

I prefer Powell and Pressburger’s earlier masterpieces: Colonel Blimp, with its moving study of emotion and having to accept the realities of life, and A Matter of Life and Death, halfway between fantasy and reality in so many ways. I don’t like The Red Shoes as much because it floats above reality and the view of the ground I don’t find sympathetic. But it is a remarkable piece of film-making and a must watch.

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