BFI LFF 2020

If It Were Love review – an emphatic celebration of the senses

Patric Chiha’s intoxicating documentary goes behind-the-scenes of dance troop Crowd, a touring piece by choreographer Gisèle Vienne

To experience Patric Chiha’s kaleidoscopic dance-doc If It Were Love is to be transported to a smokey Kreuzberg bar reverberating with pulsing house anthems and packed with sticky, delectable bodies. It is an emphatic celebration of the senses: the caress of fingertips against V-lines, the musk of gyms and sweatboxes, the taste of lipgloss and bloodied, red-raw tongues. It perforates the flimsy barrier between the performed and the real, here pooled together and stirred, like a tin of vivid paint.

The film intimately captures the rehearsals of Crowd, a touring work of interpretive dance by choreographer Gisèle Vienne; an ode to the acid-house rave scene of the ‘90s, the stage is packed with dancers adorned in tracksuits and bucket hats. Their movements, observed from the crowd in a mostly static, single-camera setup, deviate between organic and rigid, led by the meditative, almost sultry commands of Vienne. At points she floats through the troupe like a spectre, stopping to gently adjust their poses, the dancers’ concentration hardly faltering. Their commitment to the spectacle is as mesmerising as the spectacle itself.

When not on the rafters, we’re in the dressing rooms – a fly-on-the-wall to these performers’ candid conversations. There are no personal barriers: the show, we’re led to believe, has stripped away as many intellectual divides as it has physical boundaries. Everything is on the table, from their desires to fuck other troupe members to loftier, existential quizzing of goals and passions. They’re young and gorgeous and their hopes and dreams are intoxicating.

Mileage will obviously vary depending on how much one enjoys dance as a discipline – even at eighty-two minutes it feels somewhat overlong and maundering. The subjects, too, as interesting as they are, haven’t much of anything profound to say. Yet in many ways this is the greatest appeal of If It Were Love, their ultimately banal but raunchy tidbits exhumed to the surface with remarkable honesty. This is a sensory delight regardless: shut your windows, crank up the bass, light some incense and give yourself over to the experience.

If It Were Love was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020.

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