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It’s the synthesis of Tomer Heymann’s confidence as a filmmaker, his profoundly interesting subject, and the extensive performance and rehearsal footage he compiled that makes Mr. Gaga such a satisfying movie.

Gadi Dagon/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Mr. Gaga
Written by
Tomer Heymann
Directed by
Tomer Heymann
Starring
Ohad Naharin
Classification
PG

Dance documentaries can sometimes feel like good intentions gone awry – a director moved by the cinematic potential of such a visual/physical art form, but never quite managing to transcribe its force onto the screen. It's the synthesis of Tomer Heymann's confidence as a filmmaker, his profoundly interesting subject, and the extensive performance and rehearsal footage he compiled (the film was shot over eight years) that makes Mr. Gaga such a satisfying movie.

There's no one quite like choreographer Ohad Naharin working in modern dance these days – the title refers to his invented "dance language," which rejects technique to rely on instinct and primal expressivity. Heymann gets us right inside the artist's process and covers the span of his whole life, from childhood on a kibbutz to tenure as artistic director of Tel Aviv's Batsheva Dance Company.

The opening sequence is weird and riveting, with Naharin directing a dancer to collapse with total authenticity onto the floor. Heymann also lightly, but beautifully, depicts Naharin's marriage and creative collaboration with dancer Mari Kajiwara, who died of cancer in 2001. Naharin narrates the film himself, and his rich, baritone voice seems to echo the gravitas and sensuality of his artistry.

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The portrait of the artist might be a bit uncritically rosy; still, this is a compelling dance film that captures the drive and passion of a key figure in contemporary choreography.

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