- Kristen Page-Kirby Washington Post
The poster for “The Paris Opera” declares that “the drama starts before the curtain rises.” Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true.
The French documentary follows the hallowed institution through its 2015-2016 season, the first under director Stéphane Lissner. Filmmaker Jean-Stéphane Bron takes a cinéma-vérité approach, hanging back and letting the audience observe the happenings, without commentary.
Although the action of the film is chronological, Bron hops around from place to place — boardroom, dressing room, practice room — and from subject to subject, so quickly that, without guidance, it’s nearly impossible to place anything in context. The fragments never quite coalesce into a full picture.
There are some exceptions: We meet Mikhail Timoshenko, a Russian bass baritone, at his first audition for the company. As the film progresses, it’s fun to see him, all rumpled curls and star-struck eyes, begin to find his place in the reality of what is clearly his dream job. Likewise, watching a director trying to figure out how to bring a live bull named Easy Rider onstage for a production of Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aron” without anyone getting trampled or gored is a small but enjoyable vignette of backstage (and barnyard) life.
The theater is often a life characterized by hours of drudgery, broken by moments of glory. In that sense, “The Paris Opera” is a good representation of the struggle behind the spectacle. In movies, though, it’s sometimes best to even out those proportions — a little less absolute truth, and a little more bull.
“The Paris Opera”
Starring Stephane Lissner and Bejamin Millepied. Directed Jean-Stephane Bron. In French and German with subtitles.
Unrated. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Bottom line: A good representation of the struggle behind the production