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Dancing In Jaffa Review

Dancing In Jaffa Review

dancing-in-jaffaGenre: Documentary

Directed by: Hilla Medalia

Starring: Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau and Alaa Bubali 

Those who have a serious predilection for the dance/musical genre are likely to recollect the name Pierre Dulaine, although they’re unlikely to recognise the man himself. In 2006 Antonio Banderas, in the musty and melodramatic Take The Lead, played Dulaine on the screen as a dull one-note dance tutor. Here however, he comes across as someone far more fun and flamboyant. He’s a man with the same voracious energy of Louie Spence, but far more of a pleasure to be around.

Dancing In Jaffa, the latest documentary from acclaimed To Die in Jerusalem director Hilla Medalia, sees the renowned ballroom dancer, now in his late 60s, heading back to his place of birth in order to teach his famous Dancing Classrooms programme to some of the eponymous Israeli city’s school children, who are all caught in the middle of a conflict they do not wholly understand. With an interschool dance competition planned for the end, Dulaine tries to overcome the inherent antagonism rife within the community by trying to convince and teach the Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children to dance together, with the hope of offering each of them encouragement and a newfound sense of purpose.

With the likes of Morgan Spurlock, Nigel Lythgoe and LaToya Jackson credited as producers, Dancing in Jaffa is a documentary with great weight to support it. And, thanks to Medalia’s insightful understandings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s also one of great vision.

DP Daniel Kedem shoots the film with admirable understatement and maturity, refusing to allow his camera to sensationalise the story by filming it against vast backdrops of rubble and ruin. Medalia’s tone, driven by Dulaine’s infectious enthusiasm, is very much one of hope, and as such Kedem photographs the story with refreshingly sunny textures that withhold just enough darkness for the persistent sense of threat to linger eerily in the background.
dancing-in-jaffa-stillInfused by Dulaine’s passion and resolve, Medalia attempts to prance about the dance floor with the precision of a professional ballerina. She’s a filmmaker with great flair, who strives to document Dulaine’s story (complete with case studies), while also reflecting upon his thoughts towards a place he hasn’t been back to in over 50 years and observing the harrowing hostilities that have come to be part of everyday life in this part of the world.

From the beginning however, Medalia’s footwork is a muddled mess that consistently fails to be en pointe. Struggling to incorporate so much into a brisk running time that barely hits the 90-minute mark, the director’s routine soon becomes cluttered. The most interesting element of the film, which explores the stark realities of the world’s most intractable conflict, is disappointingly never offered enough focus to feel like anything more than a fleeting footnote.

Much of the dance tutoring meanwhile is baggy and repetitive. Quite uncomfortably Medalia structures this segment like the various insipid dance films Hollywood churns out with monotonous regularity, as if she wants it to be dumbed down to attract a wider audience. Far too much effort is made to sentimentalise the children’s growth and developing relationships with each other, which fundamentally weakens their story as a whole.

While it may be glossy though, it’s hard to not be inspired by Dulaine’s distinguishable determination to inject a little hope and confidence into the lives of these brave and innocent youngsters. Though the film may be in disarray for much of what precedes it, the dance competition itself is a glorious moment of purest joy that’s guaranteed to reaffirm your faith in humanity.

★★★

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