Not Long From Now: The Dancer Upstairs
by Alex Keen
Published: September 25, 2002
Well-known thespian John Malkovich makes his directorial debut with the film “The Dancer Upstairs.” Starring Oscar nominee Javier Bardem, “Dancer” is based on novelist Nicholas Shakespeare’s novel of the same name. Also starring Malkovich, this film made its international debut at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
The adaptation of Shakespeare’s novel is written by the original author himself, guaranteeing the book’s literal vision will have verbal and textual cohesion. Shakespeare’s story documents the story of an investigator in search of Abimael Guzman, a Peruvian terrorist in the 1980s. While the film is based in reality (from Shakespeare’s own experiences), Malkovich decided not to use the leader’s name, the country of origin, or the terrorist group’s name. As he told the Sundance Online Resource Center, “of course it's based on [history] to some extent, but it is a film, it's not a documentary."
Bardem has modified his appearance since his last English-language feature, “Before Night Falls.” In “Dancer,” Bardem has grayed his hair and grown a moustache to help date the film -- only 33 years old, Bardem could easily pass for 45 in “Dancer.” As Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls,” Bardem garnered international attention, earning nominations from The Academy Awards, The Golden Globes, and numerous critics groups; he won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. Famed Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers best describes Bardem’s performance in “Before Night Falls” in these words: “Bardem explodes onscreen in a breakthrough performance that ranks with the year's best.”
While American audiences may think of Bardem as a newcomer, his career has spanned 26 films in 22 years of acting (only two in English). His performance in “Live Flesh” garnered him European Film Award and Goya Award (Spanish Oscar equivalent) nominations. Bardem’s performances in “Mouth to Mouth” and “Running Out of Time” earned him two Goya Awards. Bardem has had the opportunity to work with two well-known Spanish directors, Pedro Almodovar and J.J. Bigas Lunas.
Director Malkovich is clearly the name Fox Searchlight will be using to sell this film to art house fans, critics, and award voters. While “Dancer” marks Malkovich’s cinematic directorial debut, it is not his first time directing a story. According to his official Steppenwolf Theatre Company biography, he has directed thirteen plays, including one on Broadway. Malkovich’s film experience is quite extensive – 40 film roles to date. He has been nominated twice for an Academy Award, three times for a Golden Globe, and once for an Independent Spirit Award. Although Malkovich has not won one of those prestigious awards, his performances in “The Killing Fields,” “Of Mice and Men,” “In the Line of Fire,” “Heart of Darkness,” “Being John Malkovich,” and “Shadow of the Vampire” rank him in the highest echelon of today’s living thespians.
Laura Morante also stars in “Dancer” as a ballet instructor that Bardem’s character befriends. This Italian actress had 44 films to her credit before her small American breakthrough role in “The Son’s Room.” Released internationally in 2001, the film won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d'Or. While Morante’s acting was only awarded in Europe, the film was able to generate $1 million at the American Box Office.
The success of this film in the box office rests completely in the hands of critics. This is a perfect example of a film that is practically impossible to market. While Malkovich & Bardem are superb artists, their pull at the turnstiles is nil. Without critical support, this film will disappear as a footnote below Malkovich’s acting credits.
As far as box office comparisons go, Bardem’s only American success, “Before Night Falls” made $4.22 million. In Malkovich’s case, the closest comparison would be “Shadow of the Vampire,” which made $8.28 million, thanks largely to Willem Dafoe.
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