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Piece of my Heart

Friendship between two ballerinas is repeatedly tested by competition, invidiousness, strenuous dance routines and a lot of drugs - impressive Dutch drama premieres at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


T[/drodcap]he action takes place in the 1970s in Amsterdam, the city’s sinuous canals providing a charming backdrop to this tender story of friendship and stubbornness. Irma (Elaine Meijerink) and Olga (Roos Englebert) are ballerinas under the purview of the formidable Mrs Shapiro at a local ballet school. At first Irma is very dismissive of her new colleague, writing in her diary that the girl “very nice” however “without any talent”. The two eventually bond, their friendship growing after they are invited to work together for the Royal Ballet, the top such institution in the Netherlands. Irma invites Olga to live with her, with her devoted dog et al.

Soon after an internal audition, Olga becomes the Royal Ballets’s top soloist. Mrs Shapiro explains to Irma that, although she is a very talented dancer, she will never shine and be as universally acclaimed as her friend, whose skills she once grossly underrated. “Everyone will love Olga”, and “there isn’t enough room for many soloists”, she explains to her heartbroken former pupil. This is when the allegiance between the two inseparable friend well will be undergo its most challenging test.

Initially, Olga is the stronger and most noble character. She defends Irma’s right to write whatever she wants in her diary, and continues to support her friend despite Irma’s blatant invidiousness. She refuses to congratulate or even to look at her more successful friend in the eyes. Roughly halfway through the film, the roles become inverted. That’s because the once calm and sensible Olga resorts to drugs (particularly the highly addictive anaesthetic Phencyclidine, commonly known as “angel dust”) in order reconcile her strict dance routines with her busy social (she boasts: “they know me in every nightclub in town). She also becomes anorexic and bulimic, always accompanied by a loyal bottle of laxative. Irma does her best in order to rescue her friend from the highly pernicious lifestyle before it’s too late.

Piece of my Heart is a film about friendship and also artistic ambition so resolute that it becomes destructive. We learn that Irma’s mother had an experience similar to Olga’s, and a very tragic death (she committed suicide when her daughter was just six). Despite Irma’s attempts to hold her back, Olga continues to party, to take drugs and to perform undaunted. She is blinded by reckless determination. The show must go on!

Both Meijerink and Englebert are professional dancers, and this shows. There is no requirement for body doubles: the two beautiful and talented young women carry out the dance acts with confidence and grace. They are also very good actresses. Extra praise must go to the Englebert: she constructs and then deconstructs her character to perfection. The scenes in which she is under the influence of drugs are particularly convincing: the over-agitated dancer becomes increasingly aggressive, rolls her eyes, spasms and convulses exactly like an addict would. All of that while also steadily performing her ballet dance. But how long can she carry on damaging her body like that?

Israeli-born Ditch director Dana Nechushtan has created a film exuding colour and passion but also grief and pain in equal measures. The dance scenes are thunderous: this includes both the performances in the theatre (Olga’s first soloist role is in Bizet’s ardent Carmen) and the disco scenes (Bonnie M’s Daddy Cool is the biggest highlight). Guaranteed to lift you up. And also to make you cry.

This highly enjoyable and enrapturing movie’s only shortcoming is that the final denouement insists upon itself, making what could have been an impeccable grand finale a little redundant. At 114 minutes, it could have done with paring 10 minutes or so down at the very end.

Piece of my Heart has just premiered in the Official Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. I would hazard a guess that Englebert will win the Best Actress award. Just like her character, she deserves to be number one.

By Victor Fraga - 22-11-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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