Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
Frederick Wiseman is a documentary filmmaker whose career has spanned more than forty years. Knowing that makes me feel even worse about the fact that this is the first film of his that I have ever seen. Crazy Horse is the name of the Parisian cabaret, known for its eroticism and skillfully crafted performances. In 2009, Wiseman brought his camera in to film the making of the new show the cabaret was putting on entitled Désirs. What we get is the fly-on-the-wall style of documentary filmmaking that Wiseman is known for, wherein we witness the stress, hard work and sacrifice that these people put into creating a show.
The film begins with a variety of musical numbers to introduce us to the world we’ll be spending the next two and a half hours living in. It’s dark; it’s atmospheric; it’s artistic and yes, quite erotic. Later, we see the director Ali Mahdavi talking about how they need to close Crazy Horse if they really want to be able to pull off Désirs. We see everyone from the dancers themselves, to the choreographers, makeup artists, costume designers and stage managers. What’s fascinating is that through all of the stress and apparent turmoil that exists behind putting on a show like this, no one ever shouts at one another. The overall feeling that I got when watching this film is that each show is such success largely because of the respect that everyone seemingly has for one another. They do fight, again, never yelling, they disagree on each other’s vision of the show but somehow they all work well together.
As mentioned, Wiseman’s unique style of documentary filmmaking is very removed, as opposed to most documentaries where the camera essentially forces its way in. Here, it’s literally as we’re the invisible man, unnoticed day in and day out. There are never any interviews conducted except for the ones conducted by other people promoting Désirs, which Wiseman gets on film because he happened to be there at that time. It’s a fascinating take on filmmaking because so much is left up to us as an audience to interpret. We observe everyone, but we never get to hear, for example, how any of the dancers feel personally about what they do. We hear whispers from the director that certain numbers like Venus are being cut because the women are not comfortable touching one another, but again, these are only hints.
The one scene that really lets us see the comical side of these women is when they’re sitting in the back watching bloopers of Russian ballet dancers, laughing hysterically at each of the mistakes they make. This is paralleled with another scene where the director talks about how the women are still making at least one mistake during each musical number, which is unacceptable. When watching this film one cannot help but appreciate the kind of work that goes into a show like this, or for that matter what it takes to do any show that’s worth talking about.
I should also mention that this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. This cinematography is spectacular, largely due to the artistic direction and lighting of Désirs itself. It’s amazing that a show like this even exists and it’s refreshing to see how another culture views the subject of eroticism. This is a film and a world unlike any other you’ve ever seen. It’s well worth your time and money to seek this film out and invite yourself into the world of The Crazy Horse Cabaret.