The Dancer Upstairs


Directed by: John Malkovich
Written by:Nicholas Shakespeare
Starring: Javier Bardem, Juan Diego Botto, Laura Morante, Elvira Minguez, Alexandra Lencastre
Released: July 3, 2003
Grade: A-

In an unnamed Latin American country, Augustin Rejas (Bardem) is a decent, modest man who will soon be thrust into the spotlight.  He worked as a lawyer for a short time but found a more honest way of enforcing the law – by becoming a police officer.  His wife and daughter supported his decisions but others could not understand why he would give a lucrative career and a rewarding salary.  Now, the family struggles just to pay the rent.

After a number of terrorist bombings, the chief of police appoints Rejas to lead the investigation.  Signs written in blood start appearing on the streets with the message of “Ezequiel for president” but no one can identify Ezequiel or any members his underground organisation.  Rejas is confused as to why Ezequiel is causing a revolution – he is never seen in public nor has he released a mandate.  It’s suspiciously secretive and this terrorist group has the upper hand.

Time passes and Rejas is no closer to bringing down the network.  He finds comfort in a dance instructor, Yolanda (Morante), who teaches his daughter.  The two spend much time together and the friendship may have developed into something more serious.  Rejas does discuss his work with Yolanda and she becomes one of the few escapes from the pressure he is continually finding himself under.

The love story particularly riveting but Rejas’s hunt for Ezequiel is why everyone should see this movie.  It’s a realistic journey and you actually see the huge effort put into the case by Rejas and his team.  This isn’t a cheap Hollywood plot where one detective knows can ascertain all the answers from a freak clue.  The precisely logical plot of The Dancer Upstairs comes from Nicholas Shakespeare who adapted the screenplay from his own novel.  The film also marks the directorial debut of actor John Malkovich who brings the most of his cast, crew and setting.

Leading the performances is Javier Bardem.  Many will be unfamiliar with this Spanish actor but just two years ago he received an Oscar nomination for his work in Before Night Falls.   His accent is sometimes tricky to understand but he is a talented actor who I’m sure will receive more work outside his home country.  His solemn portrayal of Augustin Rejas holds the story together.

The Dancer Upstairs is very disturbing in places but this only adds to its emotional intensity.  With Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle being the only other cinema release this week, there’s doubt which film is work recommending.