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Review: ‘Watermark’ is an immersive experience in global water use

If “Watermark” does nothing else, it will make you question society’s contradictory view of water use. The clear liquid is as essential to human life as it is threatened, yet we don’t seem to be able to do what it takes to make sure it stays available enough to keep us alive.

As co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, “Watermark” is a kind of companion piece to the pair’s earlier “Manufactured Landscapes,” which looked at how new industrial structures are transforming the face of the planet.

Joined this time by expert cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier (who notes in the press material that none of his cameras fell in the water, though he himself did a few times), “Watermark” is most memorable for its elegant, eye-widening 5K ultra-high-definition video visuals that astonish by showing us the world in a particularly immersive way.

BEST MOVIES OF 2013: Turan | Sharkey | Olsen

Given co-director Burtynsky’s career as an accomplished photographer, this visual focus is no surprise. Though we do spend more time than is strictly necessary observing Burtynsky laying out his book and then watching as it is printed, that is a price worth paying for what we see here.

“Watermark’s” most boggling sights are in China, especially those surrounding the construction of the Xiluodu, the biggest arch dam in the world, and a project so large it’s actually frightening to gaze on close up.

For those with more California-centric interests, “Watermark” has images that are closer to home. We visit Lone Pine, the site of the famous Los Angeles water grab that inspired “Chinatown.” We also take a look at the water-rich Imperial Valley, but not until we’ve spent time on the parched Colorado River Delta in Mexico, where that Imperial Valley water used to go.

If that Chinese dam is disturbing for its size, other parts of the world are unnerving for what people are doing to their water.

PHOTOS: Box office top 10 of 2013

In the Indian city of Allahabad, we get a glimpse of what it looks like when 30 million people decide to bathe in the Ganges at the same time for the once-every-three-years Maha Kumbh Mela religious pilgrimage.

Surpassing even that as a kind of pollution central is Dhaka in Bangladesh, where the chemicals used for tanning leather, the area’s main export, go into the water system and do not do it any favors.

Upsetting in a different kind of way is time spent with scientists from the National Ice Laboratory in Greenland (yes, there is such a place) who drill into ice cores two kilometers (a little more than a mile) deep. To hear these people talk about global warming in one of the world’s coldest spots is unsettling.

Finally, though, it’s the majesty and beauty of water at its most pure that stays with us longest. “Watermark” closes with a remarkable moving aerial view of the pristine Stikine River in northern British Columbia shot by employing what the press notes describe as “remote controlled helicopters with gyro-stabilized controllable gimbals.” The words are technical, but the images are simply stunning.

kenneth.turan@latimes.com

——————

‘Watermark’

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: At Landmark’s Nuart, West Los Angeles

     

Cannes 2014: Gosling, Carell and Kristen Stewart headed to fest

A number of high-profile 2014 awards hopefuls–and an eclectic group of Hollywood stars — will make their way to the Cannes Film Festival this year, joining the annual parade of global auteurs.

Bennett Miller’s fact-based wrestling tale “Foxcatcher,” David Cronenberg’s inside-Hollywood story “Maps to the Stars” and the Tommy Lee Jones frontier-drama “The Homesman” will all world-premiere in the coveted competition section, while Ryan Gosling directorial debut “Lost River” (formerly titled “How to Catch a Monster”) will debut in the Un Certain Regard section.

That means the list of celebs making their way to the world’s most prestigious movie gathering next month will include Steve Carell and Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher” ) Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska (“Maps”), Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep (“Homesman”) and Christina Hendricks and Eva Mendes (“River”). They join Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz, who star in French auteur Olivier Assayas’ Europe-set actor drama “Sils Maria” and Ryan Reynolds and Rosario Dawson, who play in Aton Egoyan’s new thriller “The Captive,” both in competition.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” will premiere in an out-of-competition slot, using the fest as a marketing catapult ahead of its June 13 release date in the U.S. and global rollout in the same period. Also premiering out of competition is Chinese super-director and Fifth Generation mainstay Zhang Yimou, whose “Coming Home,” a relationship drama starring Gong Li, will also play in one of those slots.

Kicking off this year on May 14 with Nicole Kidman‘s Grace Kelly film “Grace of Monaco” directed by Olivier Dahan, the Cannes Film Festival is both a bellwether for the state of U.S. and global cinema and a key launching pad for movies with Oscar and other ambitions, layering a veneer of credibility on — and a bright target on the back of — pretty much any film that premieres there.

In past years Cannes has been an invaluable tool for awards campaigns, boosting movies such as “Nebraska” and “Blue Is The Warmest Color” last year and vaulting “The Artist” all the way to the Oscar best-picture podium three years ago.

This year, “Foxcatcher,” “Homesman,” “River” and “Grace of Monaco” will all look to establish themselves as awards contenders, with “Foxcatcher” and “Monaco set for release from Sony Pictures Classics and the Weinstein Co. and “Homesman” and “Lost River” the wild cards seeking distribution and a head of steam coming out of the festival.

“Foxcatcher” has had an unusual journey, moving out of the 2013 awards race while Miller, who has been a juggernaut with previous movies “Moneyball” and “Capote,” continued to work on the cut. (In that regard it follows festival opener “Grace of Monaco,” the Nicole Kidman-starring Grace Kelly pic, which had been slated for a fall release as well before being postponed as the film went through an arduous editing process.)

“Foxcatcher,” which tells of the notorious incident involving John du Pont’s murder of the Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz in the mid-1990s, stars Carell as du Pont, Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz and Tatum as Mark Schultz, Dave’s brother and author of a memoir about the affair.

At a Paris press conference announcing the selections, festival director Thierry Fremaux said the opportunity to see actors reinvent themselves was part of the pleasure of the film, and urged filmgoers to try to avoid learning about the actors and their preparation before seeing the movie.

“Homesman,” meanwhile, sees Jones make a move back to directing nine years after his well-received “The Three Burials of Melique Estrada” premiered at Cannes. Based on a novel from Glendon Swarthout, the new movie centers on a claim jumper played by Jones who must help a pioneer (Swank) get several women across Nebraska; Streep stars as a minister’s wife to whome the women must be brought. “It’s a Western — not a Western with cavalry and Indians but it tells a little about the conquest of the West,” Fremaux said, adding that the movie suggests s Jones’ “determination as a filmmaker to represent the existence of a certain kind of classic filmmaking.”

This year’s festival also marks the return to competition of French icon Jena-Luc Godard, who will debut the 3-D (!) picture “Goodbye to Language.” Godard joins the usually robust list of French or French-language films, will also includes “The Search,” the follow up from “The Artist” director Michel Hazavanicius, and Belgian Bros. the Dardennes’ “Two Days, One Night” starring Marion Cotillard.

Other notable global entries in competition include the three-hour epic from Turkish helmer Nuri Bilge Ceylan, “Winter Sleep,” the Russian Cannes returnee Andres  Zvayagintsev’s “Leviathan” and Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” one of several African entries in the official selection.  

Other longtime English-language Cannes mainstays making the competition cut include Mike Leigh,, premiering his art biopic “Mr. Turner” that stars Timothy Spall as JMW Turner, and Ken Loach, whose new movie “Jimmy Hall” centers on a 1930s Irish activist.

At the other end of the spectrum, this will mark the first time Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan will be in competition, as the 25-year-old brings his new movie “Mommy” to the festival. Dolan, whose previous work such as “Laurence Anyways” has landed in other sections, has been vocal about not being accepted to competition before. Fremaux said his lamenting was not a factor in his acceptance, though the festival was aware of his displeasure. Fremaux did note that if Dolan “keeps going at this pace in 20 years he’ll have made 20 films.”

(Competition hopefuls not present at the festival are Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s Broadway drama “Birdman,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1970s crime tale “Inherent Vice” and Jon Stewart’s  directorial debut, “Rosewater.” Terrence Malick’s Christian Bale drama “Knight of Cups” also isn’t present; Fremaux said he talked to Malick not long ago and the director told him the film wasn’t ready. The festival will add titles in the coming days, Fremaux said, so don’t be surprised if “Rosewater” or another high-profile pic still lands there.)

On the subject of Dolan, it was generally a strong day for Canada, with the director joining Egoyan, the Canadian icon Cronenberg (who with the child-actor exploration of “Maps” is actually making an unusually rare foray into U.S.-made film) and even the Canadian-born “Dragon 2” director Dean DeBlois.

Many U.S. eyes, however, will be on a different Canadian, as Gosling begins his attempted evolution from actor to filmmaker.

Shot in Detroit last year, “Lost River” has been one of the more anticipated projects in moviedom, both because of its director pedigree (Gosling does not star) and its plot line, which is said to concern a single mother and an underwater utopia. (Though slightly lower profile than the competition section, Un Certain Regard is often the home for first-time directors.)  The movie does not yet have a U.S. distributor or release date, though you wouldn’t guess it from the breathless Internet anticipation about the film.

 On the subject of online phenomena, in an odd twist, Pattinson and his “Twilight” co-star/tabloid stablemate Kristen Stewart will both be on the Croisette at the same time. It’s the second time in three years that’s happened, after they each debuted “Cosmopolis” and “On the Road,” respectively, in 2012.

The festival will also see the unlikely presence of Josh Charles, fresh off his “Good Wife” death, as he stars in “Bird People,” a multilingual relationship drama from French director Pascale Ferran that will play in Un Certain Regard.  

Other titles in Un Certain Regard include  Mathieu Amalric’s “The Blue Room,” Asia Argento’s “Incompresa” and Ned Benson’s “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” the last of which is the American first-timer’s unusual twofer movie experiment about a relationship told from two separate perspectives. Cannes also aims for some topicality with Mohammed Ossama’s “The Silver Water” and Sergei Loznitsa’s “Maidan,” which center on current events in Syria and Ukraine and will play as special screenings.

 

‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ trailer: Wolverine rallies the team

Hugh Jackman‘s clawed hero Wolverine has the unenviable task of traveling back in time to try to save the world in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and the final trailer finds him following in the grand movie tradition of assembling his team.

His first recruit in the film, which unites the casts of the original “X-Men” trilogy with the 1960s-set prequel “X-Men: First Class,” is none other than a young Professor Xavier (James McAvoy). As the trailer makes clear, the telepathic professor and his school for mutants have both seen better days.

“You’re going to find this hard to believe,” Wolverine says to a disheveled and apparently drunk Xavier. “I was sent here for you, from the future, 50 years from now.”

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“Could you give me that one more time, please?” the professor replies, laughing.

Eventually, Wolverine gets through to him, warning him of a dystopian future where giant humanoid robots known as Sentinels hunt mutants and humans alike. (The film’s premise is based on the acclaimed comic book storyline by Chris Claremont.)

To stop that from happening, Wolverine and Xavier enlist the help of Beast (Nicholas Hoult), who’s “pretty strong for a scrawny kid”; Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), “a cold-hearted bitch”; Magneto (Michael Fassbender), “a monster”; and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who’s either “fascinating” or “a pain in the ass,” depending on who you ask.

Other members of the star-studded cast glimpsed in the trailer include Patrick Stewart (as an older Xavier), Ian McKellen (older Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm) and “X-Men” newcomer Peter Dinklage as Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask.

Studio 20th Century Fox has plenty at stake with the ambitious film, which represents an “Avengers”-like crossover that could help usher in, or hinder, a new phase of X-films.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” opens May 23.

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@ogettell

Tribeca Film Festival 2014 focused on simplicity, stability

NEW YORK — Since it was founded 12 years ago, the Tribeca Film Festival has sometimes swerved between identities like a barfly at happy hour, exuberant but hardly always clear.

The festival looks to change that this time around. Tribeca has entered an era in which the sale last month of a 50% stake to James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Corp. gives it economic stability. It also hopes it has finally found a mix of eclectic documentaries, international favorites, well-chosen independent features and even digital experiments to supplant earlier missions, which relied on a kitchen-sink approach to U.S. features or, for a number of years, star-heavy studio premieres.

“People used to say, ‘There are so many agendas,’” said Geoffrey Gilmore, the Sundance Film Festival veteran who now serves as chief creative officer for Tribeca Enterprises, the festival’s umbrella organization. “I don’t think you can say that anymore. We’re in our 13th year now. Like any 13-year-old, we have a sense of self.”

THE ENVELOPE: The awards and film festivals insider

That doesn’t mean there is always a clear through-line to the festival, which on Wednesday kicks off its ambitious 12-day run of narrative and nonfiction films, name-studded live events and unorthodox storytelling initiatives with the world premiere of “Time Is Illmatic,” a documentary about the landmark 1994 Nas album that will be followed by a performance from the rapper.

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal — De Niro’s producing partner and a veteran Hollywood filmmaker — and investor Craig Hatkoff as a way to revitalize lower Manhattan both commercially and creatively.‎‎ The festival quickly generated buzz and attracted consumer interest — not to mention corporate sponsors — but also spurred confusion thanks to an unusually large number of titles, a varying level of quality even by the loose standards of film festivals, and what to the movie industry could seem like a murky mission.

Though Tribeca has basically halved its slate from a few years ago — there are now just over 80 features in its program — it continues to take shots in a large number of areas, which can make for an enjoyably diverse, if at times frustratingly uneven, film-festival experience.

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‎The biggest change this year is the investment by MSG. Organizers hope the move will allow it to reach ‎beyond a traditional festival audience; the “Illmatic” premiere will take place at the MSG-owned Beacon Theatre and sell tickets to the public, a rarity for a film festival’s typically more insidery opening night.

It is the first step in what organizers say is a bid to lend Tribeca a new sense of scale and purpose based on MSG’s experience of mounting big-ticket events including Rockettes performances at its Radio City Music Hall and concerts at the Forum in Inglewood, which it also owns.

“To be aligned with an iconic brand that can help with our business and our venues is a really good thing,” Rosenthal said.‎ “It’s still new so we are figuring it out, but let’s put it this way: the festival was a startup, and everyone gets to the point as a startup where they need additional support.” (In this regard Tribeca is not alone; festivals from Toronto to Sundance have in recent years embarked on initiatives cementing their evolution from informal fan gatherings to more established businesses.‎)‎

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

The MSG-fueled ambitions aren’t the only change at Tribeca.

The festival has been more willing under the direction of artistic director Frédéric Boyer, formerly of the Cannes Film Festival, to show decorated movies that have played elsewhere, particularly if they’ve only played overseas. So this year’s selection includes the North American‎ premieres of acclaimed foreign titles such as “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” the China-made and -set detective story that won the Berlin Film Festival‘s top prize in February, and “The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq,” the trippy “Being John Malkovich“-like feature starring Houellebecq and offering an alternative imagined life for the French genre writer that has been garnering buzz on the fest circuit.

‎”What we found was that a lot of international films want the New York premiere as a way to launch in the U.S.,” Boyer said. “They’re choosing us over other places they could go.”

‎The list of U.S. narrative premieres, meanwhile, is intriguing and leaner and meaner than is once was, if still somewhat scattershot.

Directorial debuts by the actors Courteney Cox and Chris Messina (the suicide-themed black comedy “Just Before I Go” and the marital drama “Alex of Venice,” respectively) will be presented on the same slate as a writing effort from Joss Whedon (“In Your Eyes,” a metaphysical romance described as a cross between the “Avengers” director’s fantastical sensibility and Nicholas Sparks) and a Millennial look at sex and love, titled “X/Y,” starring America Ferrara and Amber Tamblyn.‎ All are world premieres.

The festival also will occasionally venture into decidedly quirky territory. Leading that list this year is‎ “My Brony Tale,” Brent Hodge’s nonfiction look at the phenomenon of grown, mostly straight men who embrace the fandom of “My Little Pony” collecting, and “Zombeavers‎,” a genre pic that is either a “Sharknado” knockoff or a trenchant comment on feminist politics, or maybe both.

‎”We can be serious but we can also have fun,” said Genna Terranova, the festival’s director of programming. “I mean, ‘Zombeavers.’ How could you go wrong?”

Documentaries, meanwhile, continue a pattern of mixing the personality-driven with the issue-oriented, often as world premieres.

Movies that fit the bill this year include such environmental docs as a work-in-progress screening of “6,” a look at mass extinction from “The Cove” director Louie Psihoyos, and “Virunga,” Orlando von Einsiedel’s examination of an endangered species at a UNESCO World Heritage site in Africa. They also include films on political figures such as Barney Frank and Ann Richards (“Compared to What” and “All About Ann,” respectively); “Beyond the Brick,” a timely look at Lego builders that will be narrated by a Lego-fied Jason Bateman; “When the Garden Was Eden,” about the glory years of Knicks teams featuring the likes of Phil Jackson that will open a sidebar section Tribeca runs with ESPN; and an untitled James Brown documentary from Oscar-winner Alex Gibney.

The festival has always been adept at drawing bold-faced names to its live events; this year’s highlights include NBC’s Brian Williams interviewing Ron Howard, a conversation between Aaron Sorkin and former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau on the nature of morality in storytelling, and a panel with “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon and math-pundit Nate Silver on the intersection of creativity and Big Data.

Despite these well-known figures, however, organizers have avoided the Hollywood premieres that over the years saw studios debut spring tent poles such as “The Avengers,”Spider-Man 3″ and “Shrek Forever After” — offerings that for a long time both characterized and complicated Tribeca’s mission.

This shift, said organizers, is by design. “Years ago we needed to make these big statements with premieres to say, “Look, we’re here; pay attention to us,’” Rosenthal said. “I don’t think we need to do that anymore.”

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

David Fincher reportedly off Steve Jobs film: Who could replace him? [poll]

After the success of “The Social Network,” David Fincher’s drama about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, the director emerged as the front-runner to bring the story of another tech giant to the big screen: Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Now the Hollywood Reporter says Sony Pictures is looking to replace Fincher at the helm of its highly anticipated Jobs biopic, based on Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography “Steve Jobs” with a script by “Social Network” scribe Aaron Sorkin. The decision was reportedly because of Fincher’s “aggressive demands for compensation and control.”

If that’s indeed the case, it underscores one of the similarities between Fincher and Jobs: Jobs was and Fincher remains an uncompromising perfectionist with an unwavering belief in his own vision.

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes of movies and TV

Whether that would have made Fincher just the man for the job may never be known; then again, it may yet. Mashable is reporting that Fincher “was never technically on the movie, neither is he technically off it, either.” In other words, he “may still be in the mix for the job.”

In the meantime, we got to thinking what other directors would be good candidates to direct Sony’s Jobs movie. Perhaps Bennett Miller, who made baseball number-crunching dramatic in “Moneyball,” which Sorkin co-wrote.

Or maybe the brainy, versatile Steven Soderbergh, who himself nearly directed “Moneyball,” could pull it off (if he decides to come out of movie director retirement). What about Martin Scorsese, who memorably brought another real-life iconoclast to the screen in “The Wolf of Wall Street” last year?

We want to know who you think would be a good choice to direct a Steve Jobs movie. Cast your vote in the poll below, and let us know why in the comments.

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William Friedkin still under the spell of ‘Sorcerer’ 37 years later

Coming off the success of the groundbreaking horror movie “The Exorcist” and the Academy Award-winning cop thriller “The French Connection,” director William Friedkin seemed to have the magic touch in the 1970s — until he made “Sorcerer.”

Adapted from the the 1950 Georges Arnaud novel “Le Salaire de la peur” (“The Wages of Fear”) and inspired by the 1953 Henri-Georges Clouzot film of that name, “Sorcerer” is a taut thriller about four outcasts transporting truckloads of high explosives over treacherous South American terrain.

Released in 1977, the film was a critical and box-office failure that threatened to derail Friedkin’s career. Through it all, though, “Sorcerer” has remained the director’s favorite of his films, and over the past 37 years, more than a few people have come around. Many critics now regard the film as an overlooked classic.

Now, nearly four decades after the film’s initial release, a new digital restoration of “Sorcerer” is returning to theaters and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on April 22. “Sorcerer” also played Saturday as part of the TCM Film Festival and will play the Cinefamily beginning April 16,

In a recent phone interview, Friedkin, 78, spoke about what the movie means to him.

“It’s the film of mine that I think is the best I’ve made because it’s the one that came closest to my vision,” Friedkin said. “‘Sorcerer’ is the only film I’ve made that I wouldn’t change a frame of.”

After “The Exorcist,” Friedkin said he didn’t want to do another supernatural film. (Don’t let the title mislead you: “Sorcerer” is the name of one of the trucks in the movie.)

“I was looking for a grittier subject that was more in line with the films that I felt the closest kinship to: action-adventure films that were really offbeat but very profound.”

“The Wages of Fear” fit the bill, and after Friedkin found out the rights to the original novel were available, he got Clouzot’s blessing to make his own film version.

“I believed that the story was timeless because it involved four guys who are basically enemies but who had to work together or blow up,” Friedkin said. “It seemed to me that that was a metaphor for the world, and still is. You have all these countries that either have to find a way to come together and cooperate or the world will be destroyed.”

Asked why “Sorcerer” failed to connect with audiences upon its original release, Friedkin replied, “I have no way of knowing that. I just don’t know.”

He did offer that “Sorcerer” was released a week after “Star Wars,” a movie that “changed the entire zeitgeist of American film.” Yet he stopped short of chalking the film’s fate up to the blockbuster space opera.

“There are just things over which we have no control, and that’s one of the themes of ‘Sorcerer,’” Friedkin said. “It’s the main theme — that no matter how difficult your struggle is, there’s no guarantee of a successful outcome.”

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‘Cuban Fury’: exclusive clip with Nick Frost and Rashida Jones

In the British dance-off rom-com “Cuban Fury,” Nick Frost plays a man who was a champion salsa dancer as a young boy who gave it up. Now an adult office drone, when a new boss arrives from America in the form of Rashida Jones, he is smitten. When he learns she is herself a salsa enthusiast, he is inspired to once again lace up his dancing shoes.

The film marks the first starring film role for Frost outside his collaborations with Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg on the films “Sean of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Paul” and last summer’s “The World’s End.” One night Frost sent producer Nira Park a half-drunk email outlining the idea for a romantic comedy with salsa dancing and the next thing he knew, they were making it.

“I’ve always liked dancing. I’ve always been good at dancing,” said Frost in a recent interview. “It’s almost like a dirty secret I couldn’t tell anyone, that I wanted to do a film where I danced a lot. It seemed like a ridiculous notion to me.”

Frost and Jones took their dancing duties seriously, as Frost trained for 7 months and Jones trained for 2. While a dance double is used slightly more often for Jones to appear to land some tricky throwing moves, there are only three instances in the film where Frost himself isn’t doing his own dancing.

“I do not advise learning something new as an adult,” said Jones. “That’s not true, you should learn something new as an adult just to remember how bad you can be at things. It was an incredibly humbling process. But I was lucky to have Nick, he’s the most positive person. He’s even better than I in my fan brain decided he was going to be. He just a delight of a human being.”

In the above exclusive clip from the film, the pair have something of a meet-cute moment – though they’ve already met – when Jones’ character accidently hits Frost with her car. Hey, it happens.

We’ll have more on “Cuban Fury” next week.

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Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus

‘Afternoon of a Faun’ recalls inspirational dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq

Considered one of the most influential and exquisite ballet dancers of the 20th century, Tanaquil Le Clercq was the muse of landmark choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Among the ballets Balanchine choreographed for her were “Symphony in C,” “La Valse” and “Western Symphony,” while Robbins created his seminal version of “Afternoon of a Faun” for her.

Both men loved her, she became Balanchine’s fourth and last wife in 1952. Her star continued to soar until it crashed to the ground four years later: The New York City Ballet had embarked on a European tour in 1956, and though precautions were made to protect the dancers against a polio epidemic by having them inoculated with the Salk vaccine, Le Clercq didn’t take the vaccination. She contracted polio while in Copenhagen.

REVIEW: ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ a graceful tale of ballet, loss

She never danced or walked again.

Le Clercq is the subject of Nancy Buirski’s new documentary, “Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq,” which features vintage clips of the ballerina in performance and interviews with those who knew her, including her frequent partner at the New York City Ballet, Jacques D’Amboise. The documentary also chronicles her life after contracting polio. Though she and Balanchine would divorce in 1969, Le Clercq found the strength to not only endure but live a full life. She died in 2001 at the age of 71.

Filmmaker Buirski recently discussed “Afternoon of a Faun” and the timeless mystery and beauty of Le Clercq, who was known to friends as Tanny.

I read that the 1948 romantic fantasy film “Portrait of Jennie” with Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten influenced your film. Is it because Claude Debussy’s beautiful composition is used in that movie?

The first time I saw Tanny she was dancing to “Afternoon of a Faun.” A tiny little piece of it showed up in a Jerome Robbins documentary, “Something to Dance About,” and explained how he was highly enchanted, shall we say, by her.

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That music has always haunted me since “Portrait of Jennie.” The score of “Portrait of Jennie” is really amazing. It interweaves “Faun,” “Arabesque No. 1″ and “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.” And it’s a story about an artist and a muse.

So here I am, kind of gob smacked, hearing this music and seeing it in that context of watching Tanny dance. As I moved forward on the film I kept thinking, I have to use “Afternoon of a Faun” as the central piece of music and all the rest [of the music from "Jennie"] because I am personally attached to that music and it’s the right sentiment.

Why didn’t Tanny get the polio vaccination ?

I don’t think we can hypothesize. I think she was a bit stubborn and she wanted to do things her way. I think she had heard that people could get ill [from the vaccine]. And according to Jacques, they were about to take a very long plane trip. She didn’t want to be miserable on the plane.

How did she manage to find that inner-strength to endure after she contracted polio?

I think Tanny in some ways remains a mystery. One thing people say about the movie is that they feel personally connected to her. But I don’t think anyone totally understands what gave her the resilience and the kind of — I don’t know whether it’s stoicism or spiritual — acceptance. She went through a serious depression and then she suddenly came out of it. Somewhere in that nightmare she found the strength to go on.

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes of movies and TV

You can’t keep her your eyes off of Tanny watching those vintage clips of her dancing in your film, with those long, coltish legs and her powerful but graceful athleticism. She had such a visceral passion for the dance. She’s haunting to watch.

Haunting is the key word. Balanchine was influenced by her, not the other way around. So he started creating his dances to satisfy and to accommodate that body. Balanchine was the kind of person who would look at someone and the way they moved and try to exploit their physicality and create moves and work for their body. Robbins usually walked in with an idea of what his moves would be and kind of encouraged — which is a generous way of putting it — the dancer to work with his moves.

She wrote two books and also taught at Dance Theatre of Harlem until 1982. What did she do in the last decades of her life?

She lived in Weston, Conn., and she had a place in Orlando. She had many people around her. She lived a life among friends.

susan.king@latimes.com