In “Boléro”, Raphaël Personnaz plays Maurice Ravel in a score executed with sensuality


Feet wearing boots make their way through the mud. The next shot, in the industrial fumes, the woman appears whole, powerful, sophisticated. Ida Rubinstein (Jeanne Balibar), a rich patron and adored dancer, goes to the factory where Maurice Ravel (Raphaël Personnaz) has arranged to meet her. He wants him to hear the din of the machines, this mechanical symphony which begins again, repeats itself. “See ,” he emphasizes, “it’s hypnotizing, it almost becomes painful. This music is the march of time moving forward. »

We are in 1928. And Ravel has just described his Boléro , ballet music which Rubinstein commissioned from him. She wants it for October, in two months. Period during which the composer felt the first signs of his neurodegenerative disease. He then struggles to find inspiration, stumbling upon this seventeen-minute score which, once written, will receive a unanimous reception from its first performance, before becoming one of the most performed pieces of music in the world. The most adapted, reinterpreted, danced. A planetary hit, they say today.

It is this score which, precisely, constitutes the subject of Anne Fontaine’s film, a slightly diverted biopic, centered on the process of creating Boléro , through which a portrait of Ravel (1875-1937) is sketched, à la both documented and free. Anne Fontaine knows music. Raised alongside a father who was a composer and organist, and a trained dancer, she was immersed in it.

As for Ravel, “the music is in [his] head,” he assures. She and he are inseparable, also inseparable from the sounds of everyday life: the singing of birds, the wind under the tiles, the brushing of a glove on the skin as one removes it. Exactly. Boléro brings about this symbiosis of music, man and the concrete world that surrounds it. Here lies one of the great qualities of Anne Fontaine’s film, whose structure, form and soundtrack work in unison with Ravel’s work, follow its musical lines, match its tempo, to its repetitions and its ruptures. Until disruption and catastrophe.

Graceful staging

However chaotic and painful it may be for Ravel, the slow journey which leads to the composition of the Boléro is accompanied by a staging full of grace. The camera films the locations like a caress (including Ravel’s house, in Montfort-l’Amaury, in Yvelines, where the team was able to film), the faces, the backs of their necks, the hands on a piano; gliding slowly from one room to another; dressing each movement of the film, each note of Ravel, and all of his music with sensuality. Like a snub sent to this critic of the time who criticized the composer for being dry, incapable of creating the slightest emotion.

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