The Babilee Mystery

Less widely known abroad than those whom his masculine, dramatic, airborne style influenced -- including Nureyev and especially Baryshnikov -- French dancer/choreographer Jean Babilee is legendary on home turf, a status readily understood from the archival footage in "The Babilee Mystery."

With:
With: Jean Babilee, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Maurice Bejart, Jeremie Belingard, Marika Besobrasova, Leslie Caron, Clive Barnes, Jean Cocteau.

Less widely known abroad than those whom his masculine, dramatic, airborne style influenced — including Nureyev and especially Baryshnikov — French dancer/choreographer Jean Babilee is legendary on home turf, a status readily understood from the archival footage in “The Babilee Mystery.” Unfortunately, this vid-shot docu’s lack of structural focus or stylistic finesse limits appeal to confirmed balletomanes and Euro artscasters.

Still remarkably fit at nearly 80, Babilee got his big break in 1946 when Roland Petit and Jean Cocteau devised the ultramodern “mimodrame” “Le Jeune Homme et la Morte.” Pic’s first third concentrates entirely on this work, then shifts to a long stretch of talking-head footage with the subject. Later sections jump from other signature pieces and a Baryshnikov tete-a-tete to Babilee’s fabled “homme fatal” volatility, and his less imperious but still exacting latter-day manner as a teacher. He spins anecdotes about Cocteau, Visconti and Picasso; Maurice Bejart and Leslie Caron are among onetime colleagues featured. Real attraction, however, is wealth of vintage performance segs wherein Babilee remains dazzling. More’s the pity, then, that helmer Patrick Bensard assembles package so haphazardly.

The Babilee Mystery

France

Production: A Muzzik, Lieurac Prods., La Cinematheque de la Danse and Videogram Paris production. Produced by Helena Van Dantzig. Directed by Patrick Bensard in collaboration with Germaine Cohen.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD vid); editor, Germaine Cohen; music supervisor, Fabrice Rivaud. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 28, 2001. Original title: Le Mystere Babilee. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Jean Babilee, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Maurice Bejart, Jeremie Belingard, Marika Besobrasova, Leslie Caron, Clive Barnes, Jean Cocteau.

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