Ever since Beau Travail, her 1999 masterpiece, French filmmaker Claire Denis has undoubtedly gravitated towards the art of human body. But, unlike her compatriot Catherine Breillat, she is much more concerned with its rhythm, its structure, its music, rather than the inherent sexuality associated with it. Now, Vers Mathilde (Towards Mathilde), her documentary on one of the leading modern dance choreographers in France, Mathilde Monnier, gives her the perfect opportunity to examine the kineticism associated with the art of dance, its relationship with cinema, but most importantly, the dynamic capabilities of the human body.
Mathilde Monnier is the head of Montpellier National Center for Choreography, Frances leading dance training and research center and has had the pleasure to train under the great American choreographer Merce Cunningham. But Denis isnt interested in the private life of her subject or any of her dancers; she is more keen on their set-pieces, from their birth to their consummation. Using both Super-8 and Aaton 16mm cameras, which according to Denis was by design and not because of economics - "We initially used a Super-8 to remove the intimidation of the camera and to give the film a pre-existence, like a common memory before moving on" - the director catches the rehearsals of three different productions: "Publique," a work set to music by P.J. Harvey, whose songs were suggested by Denis, "Allitrations," a collaboration with philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy and composer eRikm, and "Droutes" (Disarray), a piece which also features music from eRikm. Even with their own distinctive tricks and turns, all three strikingly bear Monnier's signature. Monnier's set-design/props also lend a visceral quality to her unique pieces.
At various points, Monnier uses terms and phrases like "scratching" and "marks in space" to express the various rhythmic body displacements as she breaks them down into parts. Denis follows suit. Working with her inestimable DP and friend Agns Godard along with the young Hlne Louvart, her nimble camera drifts in and out between the performers as if it was part of it and she rhythmically catches various body parts at work. Monnier speaks in-between, about the associated theories on dance, her process etc. and what becomes known is her passion and devotion to the art form. Even more important is her performance late in the film where she twitches and squirms like shes possessed, even though she's structurally and formally sound (unlike Denis Lavant at the end of Beau Travail), and at this moment the gaze of Denis camera gives credence to the notion that perhaps it takes one great woman to truly capture another.