Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Elvira Lind
Written by: Elvira Lind
Cast: Bobbi Jene Smith, Or Schraiber, Ohad Naharin, Denise Smith, Yaniv Nagar, David Harvey, Barbara Frum, Nirit Schraiber, Amir Schraiber, Matan Daskal, Adam Whitney Nichols, Laura Dern
Opens: September 22, 2017
Director Elvira Lind, whose film “Songs for Alexis,” deals with the struggle of two teens for love in a grownup world, knows how to avoid the mistake of so many documentaries, if “Bobby Jene” is an example. The principal problem that finds general audiences shunning them in favor of narrative films is the use of talking heads– that make most nonfiction films undramatic. “Bobbi Jene” is a nonfiction story that comes off like a narrative, since the camera follows the famous dancer from the ages of thirty to thirty-two, and like a fly on the wall is content simply to capture her moments on the dance floor, the situation she faces with her Israeli boyfriend Or Schraiber, who is ten years younger, and her hard choice to leave the Batsheva Dance Company of Israel after performing modern dance there for a decade.
It helps as well that Lind opens the film by capturing the most dramatic and controversial moment in her dance life, which is performing on stage in the nude, a situation that had worried her mother Denise Smith, an Evangelical Christian.
Among the highlights of Bobbi Jene’s life is her tearful announcement to Ohad Naharin, her former lover who is the director of the Batsheva company and is ten years older than Bobbi Jene, that she does not entirely feel at home in Israell Yet when she dropped out of college at the age of twenty-one, she had already dreamed of dancing for the Tel-Aviv based Batsheva, which was founded by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild in 1964, a company inspired by an attachment to modern dance in America.
While she is in San Francisco, Bobbi Jene does some teaching while seeking locations for performances, and ultimately gets work in Jerusalem, where she again takes up with Or Schraiber, discusses the possibility of marriage, and return again on to New York. If there is one scene that is even more daring than her staging in the nude it is one that involves pleasuring herself on top of a sandbag, an extended replica of intercourse that goes on for five minutes of writhing and moaning and which is simply neither charming, nor amusing, nor worthy of serious thought. Why not simply go ahead and do the same in the nude, substituting a man like Or for the sandbag?
Why Bobbi Jene is able to live in Israel for ten years and only then deciding that she does not feel at home is not explored, and there is little explanation to a movie audience, many of whom have never seen modern dance, about the nature of the art. There are times that I had hoped that the Batsheva would entertain a long intermission to allow the Bolshoi Ballet to make a surprise entry and to demonstrate a Pas de deux or two. For me, the best example of avant-garde ballet, which of course is “modern” but not like Bobbi Jene’s work, would be Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” although I suppose the ballet that caused a riot in Paris when first presented would be considered hopelessly passé by aficionados of modern dance.
Unrated. 96 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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