Mathilde Monnier, one of France's leading modern dance choreographers, begins her daily warm-up with her arms-flailing them about, making what she calls "scratching" movements, disrupting the space around her. Director Claire Denis (Chocolat, Beau Travail) follows the Merce Cunningham-trained choreographer, who since 1993 has been the head of the Montpellier National Centre for Choreography, and her diverse group of dancers as she rehearses several pieces, including "Publique," a work set to music by P.J. Harvey, whose songs were suggested by Denis, "Allitérations," a collaboration with philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy and lectronic composer eRikm, and "Déroutes" (Disarray), a piece based on Georg Büchner's unfinished short story "Lenz," also with music by eRikm. Monnier's dancers navigate obstacle courses of orange latex stretched across wooden frames, giant inflatable tubes, and each other's bodies in a choreographic process that is at once structured and improvisational. They walk, make wordless sounds, and wear wires triggering electronic bleeps. Just as Monnier's kinetic investigations break down bodies into discrete parts, Denis' Super-8 and Super-16 cameras move in close to the dancers, shooting in a manner that would usually be thought of as counterintuitive for a dance film. The whirr of the unblimped camera reminds us, and the dancers, of its presence, as Denis joins Monnier's many collaborators, scratching the space in her own way. As Denis' camera moves towards Mathilde, the result is an intimate look at the creative process from an artist whose medium is the very opposite of the temporality of the stage.
Claire Denis is a Paris-based filmmaker whose films include Chocolat (1987); Man No Run (1989); S'en fout la mort (1990); Jacques Rivette, le veilleur (1990, with Serge Daney); Keep It for Yourself (1991); J'ai pas sommeil (1993); US Go Home (1994); Nenette et Boni (1996); Beau Travail (1999); Trouble Every Day (2001); Vendredi Soir (2002) and L'Intrus (2004).