Starring: Nicolas Cazalé, Stéphane Rideau, Thomas Dumerchez, Salim Kechiouche and Bruno Lochet
Director: Gaël Morel
Writing Credits: Christophe Honoré and Gaël Morel
Distributor: TLA Releasing (USA 2005)
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rated: unrated

What might you, dear reader, find worthwhile in the fractured drama of director/co-writer Gael Morel's THREE DANCING SLAVES? Well, it's a homoerotic haven, for one...especially for those with a penchant for Bel Ami boys, metrosexual posturing and European sensibilities. It's beautifully shot (cinematographer Jean-Max Bernard's work ranks among the year's best), extremely well-acted, and especially engrossing in its last hour. And lest we forget it's most defining's French.

Before you rush off to the theater, however, you should also know the downside of this intermittently rewarding, often frustrating cinema experience: it's a meandering, carelessly plotted jumble of violence and random plot points. A character study that gives little attention to those characters' actions, it follows three brothers (the 'dancing slaves' of the Americanized title -- it's original French name translates to The Clan) who are trying to simultaneously survive a harsh father and the emotional brutality of their mother's recent death. Morel's drama trades almost completely on style rather than substance...and when substance is called for, it means nothing more than pimping a violent subplot or exploiting the ambiguous sexualities of the brothers. The scenery is beautiful and the characters are intriguing, but to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there's just no there there in THREE DANCING SLAVES.

What redeems the film, if indeed it is redeemed at all, is its actors. Nicolas Cazalé is a study of contradictions and complexities as tough-guy Marc, whose downward spiral seems without angry young man whose search for self is hopelessly blunted. Stéphane Rideau (who co-starred with Morel in 1994's French homoerotic classic, Wild Reeds) turns the oldest brother, the ex-con Christophe, into a tough-love battler determined to move beyond past mistakes by working in a slaughterhouse. Without question, however, the best moments of the film belong to Thomas Dumerchez as the youngest brother Olivier, a target for his siblings' explosive outbursts...and whose tender and heartbreaking relationship with another boy, Hicham (Salim Kechiouche), finally grounds THREE DANCING SLAVES in something real.

Morel has proved, in films like 1996's Full Speed, that he can craft a cogent and compelling narrative around intricate characters. Maybe the muddy, obtuse storytelling here is due to co-writer Christophe Honoré, who wrote the similarly jumbled Close To Leo. Whatever the case, the film barely maintains interest and often frustrates the viewer; in the first half of the film, essential pieces of information are missing to make sense of what is happening onscreen. THREE DANCING SLAVES is darkly rich in character and mood, provocative in intent...but ultimately foiled by inattention to its own story. For Francophiles and Fight Club erotics only.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2005 Gabriel Shanks and Mixed Reviews. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Mixed Reviews or the author is prohibited.

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