Short Film - Elle

There are spoilers ahead as Susan Omand makes a song and dance about the short film Elle...

Normally I go into watching short films cold i.e. not having read much in the way of a synopsis or the background/reasons for the making of the film. I do this, firstly, because I don’t want it to sway my thoughts on the work by knowing what others, either the PR company or the creatives themselves, want me to think about it before I see it. Secondly, I want to see how well a film stands up on its own, without the scaffolding of explanation; for me, a short film, like any art form, shouldn’t need to rely on explanation to connect with its audience. Therefore, I watched Elle the first time knowing very little about it…

… and I didn’t understand it. From what I gleaned in the first watch-through, a young teenage girl, Elle, is in school, choosing her subjects for the next year of study but is told her beloved dancing class is off the curriculum. Fair enough I guess. Then, in what I assume is one of her final dance classes, incidentally in what looks like a pukka theatre rather than the gym hall, the teacher tells her she’s getting an audition for a “proper” dance school where she can be professionally trained. Still fair enough. Elle runs home to tell her artist mother and start rehearsing to impress the talent scout but rehearsals are not going well. Elle then inexplicably loses her memory. What? How? Why? Anyway, we then basically get a series of dreamlike flashbacks starting with her loss of memory, depicted by her mother’s painting and her own choreography cards fading to blank as she touches them, then following a vision of “younger Elle,” almost as a ghost of Christmas past, as she sees herself going to watch the ballet at a very young age with her ex-dancer grandmother, then a scene where she’s getting bad reports from parents evening at primary school because she’s easily distracted, leading to her joining a dance class and, I suppose, finding her calling and everything being fine at school again. Back to the present and straight into the audition (no mention of the memory loss) which she, I assume, nails with an interpretive dance routine to no music that she seems to have made up on the spur of the moment. The end. So what?

Now, there are films, especially short films, that work incredibly well, even though (and in some cases especially because) I didn’t understand them. These are usually incredible art pieces that evoke emotions, cause controversy or spark interest and engagement because of something in the way they are filmed rather than having a linear story, so you watch them to let the sensory experience of the film wash over you and enjoy it in the same way as you would a piece of music or an artwork in a gallery. But it struck me that Elle as a film was trying to get a point across, so I’d obviously missed something. So I went back to actually read the information that I had about the film before watching it again. Here is the synopsis:

This is the story of a young girl struggling to pursue her dream of becoming a professional dancer where creativity is forgotten. With a sudden diagnosis of memory loss, she must fight for her dream.

“Where creativity is forgotten” to me doesn’t imply “where you get to audition for a dance school and your artist mother is excited for you to follow your dream.” I also don’t understand where the loss of memory comes in, other than a McGuffin to prompt the flashbacks which could have easily been covered in a literal dream sequence. And we didn’t see much of a “fight for her dream” other than a cup being thrown in frustration when rehearsals on the big fancy stage weren’t going so well. So much for the synopsis, what about the background? This may explain things more, I thought.

ELLE aims to challenge societies views on young children with big creative dreams. The film highlights the issues in the UK’s education system neglecting arts and cutting it out of the school curriculum, and the increasing number of historically important arts venues and communities forced to be shut or torn down to make room for flats and offices.

Okay, so dancing isn’t on the curriculum this year at Elle’s school – I don’t think it ever was in normal state schools (apart from primary school gym classes on the run up to Christmas in the late 70s but again that was maybe just me). The other creative classes – Art, music, English, woodwork and metalwork, cooking – are not mentioned in the film so it could be that they’re all fine. Yes I know they’re not fine, but my point is that the film picked one of the most obscure school subjects to highlight the issue and they highlighted it by giving the girl an amazing opportunity to further her study in a specialist school. An opportunity that her mother and teacher are both really keen on helping her achieve. So I think the point was missed in the concept or, at least, I missed it. I also missed the bit where they allude to the closure of arts venues in the community. I know the dance teacher said “we’re not going to be here much longer” but we already knew Dance was going to be taken off the curriculum so that’s just a statement of fact and I didn’t tie it into thinking that the theatre building (which I assumed was part of the school) was going to close. We didn’t get the views of closed theatres, abandoned buildings or even torn posters that would have (albeit in a cliched way) covered the point a bit better.

But maybe it was just me. The points were likely all there but I just didn’t pick up on them. Film-making, like all art, as much about the intention, which is a worthy one in this case, as it is the end product. And all art is subjective, there is no right or wrong way in either making or viewing art. Just because I didn’t get the point of the film doesn’t make it a bad film or me a bad viewer, just that, this time, we didn't seem to be dancing to the same tune.

Image - Good Gal Films

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