The Dancer (La Danseuse), the bio of American art nouveau icon Loïe Fuller, is so dreamily shot, with such nakedly committed acting by music artist SoKo, that you can almost forgive its narrative gaps—and the considerable liberties it takes with historical fact.

Fuller pushed her body beyond all limits for her artistic vision. At the peak of her career in the 1890s, she was in constant pain because of the physical demands of her dance, and had to wear dark glasses to cover the bloodshot damage wreaked on her eyes by the spotlights. She would spin like a whirling dervish on-stage, using yards of flowing fabric, extending it by holding out heavy poles beneath the sleeves, enhanced with projected coloured light. You could call her the first multimedia artist—and by the late 19th century she was a major star in Paris.

French filmmaker Stéphanie Di Giusto tells her story through lush imagery and spare text. Fuller leaves her wild Midwestern farm when her hard-drinking French father is shot—in a claw-foot bathtub, the blood running in red ribbons from bullet holes across the cold ground. From here, Fuller heads to live with her Temperance League mother, attempting to become an actress, and eventually stumbling upon the effects she can create with her gowns on-stage.

She’s befriended by a rich French benefactor, Count Louis d’Orsay—a composite character, but fascinating, the lupine Gaspard Ulliel (Saint Laurent) playing an ether addict besotted by a dancer whose sexuality is still unclear.

Fuller steals money from him to forge her career in Paris. When he later donates an abandoned French mansion to her as a studio, famed young dance pioneer Isadora Duncan (a graceful but one-note Lily-Rose Depp) comes to rehearse with Fuller. Here, Di Giusto recasts her rivalry with Fuller as one as sexual as it is professional—SoKo’s emotionally bare, robust dancer at odds with the sylphlike, manipulative future Mother of Modern Dance.

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