LE BAL (Ettore Scola. 1983)

From Italy, France and Algeria, Le bal is based on the play by Jean-Claude Penchenat, which he helped adapt, along with the director, Ettore Scola, and Ruggero Maccari. It has its partisans and won a bunch of major prizes for Scola’s direction, including at Berlin, and as best film. However, it is artsy-fartsy, almost completely ridiculous, and arguably the worst thing that Scola ever did. It is also viciously, and utterly gratuitously, anti-American.
     Florid, farcically exaggerated, thin and melodramatic, it is a film largely about ghosts as it surveys patrons of a French ballroom over a span of fifty years. One time-period yields to another, in several instances with a nifty transition: a group of living patrons are jolted into what appears to be a freeze frame, and the camera withdraws to reveal a framed photograph on the establishment’s wall. Sometimes the place begins with one group of patrons that is seamlessly replaced by another group in a later time-period.
     We get changes in fashion, music, dancing, and with a smattering of points of political history along the way; but there never seems to be any air inside this ballroom, and only a quick moment or two seems the least bit human. The whole thing is dictated by the film’s one flimsy idea.
     Ricardo Aronovich’s color cinematography is ostentatious, to say the least, and that and most every other element in the film strains for a haunting quality; but Scola’s ghosts do not stir. Compare Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970); it is the difference between art and trash.

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