Dancing in Jaffa
Opens Fri., April 25 at Varsity. Not rated. 90 minutes.
Pierre Dulaine is very sure of himself, and this documentary likewise admits no doubts about his goals and methods. An impish dynamo now pushing 70, Dulaine has one of those lovely, unplaceable European accents that could make him a background player in Casablanca. His mission to teach Israeli and Palestinian schoolkids ballroom dancing is simple and evangelical: “What I’m asking them to do is dance with the enemy.” If you don’t get the broader symbolism, he and the movie—directed by Hilla Medalia—repeat it a dozen times. Part of Dulaine’s charm is his certainty; and that helps him win over skeptical parents and shy students, some of whom we follow home to circumstances both privileged and impoverished. After a successful dancing career, he’s taught in New York City schools for some 30 years, so he knows how to twist arms and dry tiny tears—as seen in the 2005 doc Mad Hot Ballroom. (Antonio Banderas portrayed Dulaine in the 2006 drama Take the Lead.)
Still, a bully is a bully, and that’s what Dulaine is. The entire film is designed to validate his pedagogy and to valorize selective aspects of his biography. Eventually we learn he was born in Jaffa and why he left. On videotape, we see him dancing in his ’70s prime with Yvonne Marceau, who briefly visits Jaffa. When the two fond old partners demonstrate their moves, the children—raised on Beyonce and Lady Gaga—are enraptured. But will that last? And will the kids’ ballroom detente? Dulaine’s notion, here and in Israel, is that dance discipline and decorum will help these children later in life. But have any studies been made to prove that theory? Do sports make kids into better adults? Or drama club or debate society?
Dancing in Jaffa succeeds in being cute; moreover, it insists on it. Dulaine and his film crew arrive at a choreographed conclusion of triumph, then fly home to Manhattan. Every year, there’s a new class of kids to put through the same inflexible steps.