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Dancer Upstairs (The)

Based on a 1997 novel, "The Dancer Upstairs," shot before September 11th, 2001, is an eerie, timely, contemplation on terrorism. Augustin (Bardem) has joined the police force after quitting law, and is assigned to stop a terrorist, Ezequiel, who strikes at random, each time leaving a mark by publicly hanging a dead dog. (In China, a dead dog symbolizes that the people have executed a tyrant.)

Inspired by the Peruvian terrorists Shining Path, the story reveals how terrorism undermines national self-confidence. Ezequiel boldly kills helpless people in distant areas, which provokes the government to implement martial law and send the army to aid the investigation. Augustin, who seems to dote happily on his wife and daughter, all too easily stays away from home for work, never noticing his wife's obsession with improving her nose nor has a convincing reason for leaving his law practice. Trying to handle the Ezequiel crimes intuitively, he works more through gut feelings than by searching for clues. He's subtle and guarded, and only slowly faces, and is reluctant to act on, newfound love for Yolanda (Morante), his daughter's ballet teacher.

This movie isn't a thriller as much as a meditation on a man stumbling over his own thinking. Augustin says he should be a coffee farmer, but the government's confiscation of his farm did him a favor, by pushing him off the land and into law school. Now he's caught between yearning for the land and a confused wish to make a difference to society. As a cop, he's trusted with great responsibility, but we see he's a dreamy idealist whose weak approach to life lets him be pushed along by events. He hates Ezequiel's acts, but is baffled because of his violent, classical anarchism: He seeks the state's downfall in the perverse hope that a new society will somehow arise from its wreckage. Ezequiel, finally found by a fluke, is dragged into the public eye, as Augustin retorts, "The fourth stage of communism is just a big fat man in a cardigan."

"The Dancer Upstairs" is photographed in a way that lets us think about things, but that doesn't make the movie slow. It moves with compelling intensity toward its conclusion -- in Augustin's small moral victory. His quarry turns out to be another Wizard of Oz; now having opened the curtain, Augustin must return to his wife, who will soon be talking about plastic surgery again.
Director(s): John Malkovich
Writer(s): Nicholas Shakespeare, based on his novel
Cast: Javier Bardem, Laura Morante, Juan Diego, Elvira Minguez, Alexandra Lencastre, Oliver Cott
Release Date: 2003   
Keyword: Peru, terrorists, Shining Path, Malkovich, Ecuador
Target Age: 18+   Category: political
Documentary: no
Language: English   Reviewer's Name: Micah
Review: http://MRQE
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