Jean-Stéphanie Bron’s film documenting the 2015-2016 season of The Paris Opera is a whirlwind ride through the day-to-day, week-to-week (etc), planning of one of the most respected cultural institutions in the world. Under the direction of a new leader, Stéphane Lissner, The Paris Opera prepares for the opening of Schönberg’s Moses and Aaron, all while juggling cast, crew, and union demands, signing new talent, acquiring a live bull with just the right physique and stage presence, and coming to terms with changing attitudes towards the Opera itself.
It’s not difficult to imagine the immense pressure that the directors of The Paris Opera feel on a daily basis, nor is it hard to contemplate the amount of preparation, work, and dedication that goes into each season. Yet, Bron manages to make a fairly engaging film despite the obvious and oftentimes disjointed collection of scenes that comprise the bulk of his documentary. Jumping from boardrooms and business meetings, to rehearsals with ballet dancers and opera singers, to difficult phone calls and conversations between colleagues arguing over proper stage blocking, this film has a hard time articulating any meaningful or profound takeaways. However, there is great mastery of vérité filmmaking within most of the scenes, which is usually more than enough to hold audience interest in the individual dramas that unfold.
More importantly, Bron’s camera manages to capture the real essence behind the passion these artists have for what they do. Such moments are revealed in the awed expressions of a young opera singer watching his idol rehearse, or a stage assistant longingly gaze from behind a curtain as a principle singer performs. There is also an interesting series of scenes that depict the Opera’s special program for gifted child musicians. Instilling a love of music in young people is vital for the continuation of organizations like The Paris Opera, yet as these scenes show not every kid wakes up each morning with the passion to play the middle of their cello bow enthusiastically, talent be damned.
The Paris Opera isn’t a documentary for everyone, especially viewers that require instant reflection and analysis of the situations depicted though the use of talking-head interviews and the like, of which there are absolutely none to be had here. But when the camera is used this effectively as an instrument to direct attention to the subjects of the film, the need for narrative voice-over quickly dissipates. It’s not hard to grasp what’s going on, even if at the end there doesn’t seem to be much to hold on to in terms of lasting impressions.
The Paris Opera opens today at the Ritz Five in Philadelphia.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.