Diana Silvers stars as taciturn ballet dancer Kate Sanders in new YA drama birds of paradisewhich begins slowly but eventually explodes with passion, tension and dread, though, like the ballerina herself, it only blossoms after about 30 minutes.
In an early expositional dump, Kate is established as a shy, friendless teenager, the kind of introvert who is so frail a gentle wind could blow her away. She is a scholarship student at an elite French ballet academy, where she was rejected for being too quiet, too poor, too clumsy and too American. On the first day, a haughty teacher (Jacqueline Bisset) is quick to tell her she’s a total waste of space, and one of the school stars, Marine (Kristine Froseth), punches her in the face.
Although it seems like these two are destined to be sworn enemies, they somehow become best friends. Marine, who mourns the loss of her brother, is also a stranger, and she quickly finds comfort in Kate’s company. They take an oath to win the school’s top prize, though it becomes apparent that they cannot occupy the same spot. Only one student can win home gold – not that it’ll stop them from trying, fighting and sleeping to get to the top.
Ellen Reid’s score jumps, twirls and sways, and paired with the athletic cinematography, aggressive color design and surreal dream sequences, the film feels like a waking nightmare, inspired by the female hysteria of The Red Shoesor the ballet on the verge of madness by Darren Aronofsky Black Swan with Natalie Portman.
birds of paradise is far less effective than those films, never fully engaging in the heightened madness. But it’s still crisp, sexy, visually hypnotic, and perfectly in tune with the ever-changing ballet. At the start, the film is simple, basic, shot in static compositions. Then it gets smoother as the dance gets smoother and Kate becomes more in tune with Marine’s zealous wavelength.
The message of Sarah Adina Smith’s film – that adversity is easier to handle with a friend – isn’t exactly groundbreaking. It’s a lesson we’ve seen a million times before. But it all comes together thanks to those aforementioned flourishes, as well as Smith’s harshly realistic portrayal of the dance academy milieu.
Although not mentioned in the same breath as basketball, football, or soccer, ballet is just as intense as those sports in its competitive nature. Countless hours are spent memorizing a thousand moving parts, sets and bodies, not to mention the pressure on these girls to perform in front of demanding parents and ruthless coaches. birds of paradise raises the curtain, so to speak, on this environment. He puts us in Kate’s shoes (tip), then inextricably tightens the laces.