Film Review: ‘Reset’

While gorgeous, this documentary look at Benjamin Millepied’s work with the Paris Opera Ballet lacks the necessary drama.

'Reset' Review: Paris Opera Ballet Documentary
Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

“Reset” is so gorgeously shot that it almost distracts attention away from the sheer inertia of its material. In detailing Benjamin Millepied’s 2015 efforts to stage his first show, “Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward,” as the Paris Opera Ballet’s new dance director — a post which he recently relinquished, to much speculation — directors Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai don’t lack for access, as their documentary takes up intimate residence alongside its subject as he choreographs, plans and oversees rehearsals for his maiden production. Alas, despite Millepied’s paradigm-shifting intentions, there’s no drama to this story, only a wealth of visual splendor.

On the strength of his tenure as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet (as well as his contributions to Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” whose star, Natalie Portman, he married in 2012), Millepied was hired to take over the reigns of the Paris Opera Ballet. It’s an illustrious, nerve-wracking job, and on the basis of Demaizière and Teurlai’s profile, it’s one for which Millepied is immediately up to the task.

From the film’s initial moments, the 38-year-old seems completely energized by the opportunity to reimagine the famed institution’s work for the modern era. As he repeatedly declares, gone are the days of all-Caucasian casts, lousy stage facilities, and instructional brow-beating. For Millepied, modernization is vital in order to keep the establishment relevant, both with audiences and with dancers who, in his opinion, are too often taught to be robotic clones by abusive teachers.

In sequences of him bobbing along to music in his office, or effusively coming up with new routines while wearing headphones alone in a studio, Millepied’s joyful love of movement and creativity is unmistakable, and thus it’s little surprise to hear him encourage his young charges to let their own unique personalities shine through on stage. Millepied further shakes up the status quo when — for the first time in the Paris Opera Ballet’s history — he casts a mixed-race lead for a classical ballet, a decision that, like his interest in using a “Third Stage” digital venue to attract new artists to the institution, speaks to his desire to bring the old-school institution into the 21st century.

“Reset” thus appears poised to investigate a clash between the traditional and contemporary, except that as it turns out, Millepied’s various updates are — at least according to what’s shown here — universally accepted and celebrated by all parties. The greatest resistance Millepied encounters comes from general director Stéphane Lissner, and even that only amounts to the boss’ assertion that maintaining old technological infrastructure frees up more money for putting on shows. The same holds true on the creative front, as Millepied comes across as a jovial, enthusiastic, self-possessed leader and mentor whose ability to conceive, and execute, his program is never in doubt.

It isn’t necessarily the directors’ fault that their chosen focus of attention is so devoid of fireworks or suspense (even a looming crew strike fizzles out before it can drum up legitimate anxiety). However, it nonetheless turns “Reset” into a familiar, tension-free study of the sorts of logistical and artistic hurdles faced by any enormous, high-profile production. As title cards count down the days to opening night, “Reset” becomes merely a series of ho-hum incidents, to the point that when one of Millepied’s dancers reveals a last-second foot injury, there’s no sense that anything — much less the entire program — is in serious jeopardy.

What’s left, then, is merely a steady supply of rapturous imagery set to Pierre Aviat’s swooning electronica-and-orchestral score. Alban Teurlai’s camera glides, zooms, swings and tip-toes around these ballet pros with a fluidity that peaks during numerous slow-motion sequences enraptured by lithe bodies in motion.

In its portraits of these artists at work, and its rapid-fire montages of sights from in and around the opera house — all of which accompany text that denotes the names of particular rehearsal locales — “Reset” revels in striking spatial relationships. Running almost two uneventful hours, however, the film’s theatrical reach won’t extend beyond aficionados of modern dance and stunning cinematography.

Film Review: ‘Reset’

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., April 21, 2016. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Spotlight.) Running time: <strong>110 MIN. </strong>(Original title: “Relève”)

  • Production: (France) A Falabracks and Opéra de national de Paris co-production, in association with Canal Plus. (International sales: Upside Distribution, Puteaux.) Produced by Falabracks. Executive producer, Stéphanie Schorter. Co-producer, Opéra national de Paris.
  • Crew: Directed, written by Thierry Demaizière, Alban Teurlai. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Alban Teurlai; editors, Alice Moine, Alban Teurlai; music, Pierre Aviat; production manager, Serge Malko; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Emmanuel Guionet, Bertrand Pujol, Nicolas Bourdon; sound editing, César Mamoudy; additional directors, Carole Grigy, Eliza Georges, Léo Monnet.
  • With: Benjamin Millepied, Nico Muhly, Aurélie Dupont, Iris van Herpen. (French dialogue)