Etoile (1989)

Saturday, 20 September 2014


Also Known As: Ballet
Directed By: Peter Del Monte
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Charles Durning, Gary McCleery
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: 1989
Country of Origin: Italy


For my latest film review I will once again be going against the remit of my blog by writing about a film that isn't a traditional giallo - I promise I'll start knocking off some more relevant posts shortly! So this post is going to be about the 1989 Peter Del Monte film 'Etoile' which has been getting a bit of attention courtesy of Aronofsky's Black Swan. Black Swan has more than a few similarities to Etoile and it wouldn't surprise me if Aronofsky was influenced somewhat by Del Monte's late eighties picture. Both films follow young women trying out for and successfully winning lead roles in ballet productions that end up going horribly wrong. Whereas Black Swan is a bit more ambiguous in its themes and ideas, Etoile completely goes down the supernatural path and it should be no surprise to anyone that both films appear to be heavily influenced by Argento's Suspiria. Let's face it no one can make a horror film featuring ballet without a Dario comparison.



Etoile follows ballet student, Claire Hamilton, as she arrives in Hungary to audition for a new production of Swan Lake. When Claire's big moment finally arrives she is so overwhelmed that she ditches the audition, running off into the building's empty auditorium. Finding solace, she begins to dance, unaware that the head of the production is watching her from the stalls. Impressed by Claire's talent, he casts her in the lead role and so Claire's ascent to ballet stardom begins, however, things are never quite that simple. In the hotel that she is staying at, Claire meets a young man named Jason who is in Hungary to help his uncle buy clocks at auctions for his business. Quickly becoming smitten with Claire, Jason asks to hang out with her and the two bond on a trip around Hungary, only things start to get weird when Claire finds an old house that she feels drawn to, like she's been there before. The house in question used to belong to a ballet dancer named Natalie Horvath who played the prima ballerina in Swan Lake 100 years ago. Only, Natalie met a tragic fate and never got to carry out her starring role on opening night. Claire soon begins to be mistaken for Natalie by other people and receives black roses addressed to her. Before long, Claire is completely under Natalie's spell, forgetting Jason and her very own identity. Jason tries to rescue Claire but has Natalie's hold proved to strong? Will he be able to save her before opening night?


Etoile has a promising premise, an interesting atmosphere and some great moments but it is hindered by the plodding pace of the overall story. Claire's love interest, Jason, is bland and comes across as a creepy stalker rather than a legitimate romantic suitor. I found it hard to care about his character and thought the actor had terrible screen presence. Charles Durning as Jason's uncle was entertaining enough but had too much screen time which could have been used to focus more on the sinister mystery of Natalie and the supernatural elements of the story. I thought the mysterious, Dorian Gray like director of the ballet and his entourage of dancers was suitably creepy but again, underused. Del Monte seemed more concerned with the wishy washy love story than the horror elements in the film and as a result the film suffered. If the scene with the black roses was followed by scenes in a similar vein this would have been a much better film. Instead, we have overally long scenes that break up the tension.


As like many other films from the late eighties, Etoile looks less impressive than some of the horror and genre cinema from the earlier part of the decade - it wasn't stylised enough for my liking.There's a more muted, less flamboyant style to the film that can leave some scenes looking a little flat. I was a bit underwhelmed by the production of Swan Lake itself  but thought the Black Swan costuming was incredible and rather sinister. The rich, old fashioned interiors like Natalie's house and the hall that the auction took place in looked fantastic and I wanted more of the sort of visual flare and for it to be utilised more.  I did enjoy some of the set pieces like Claire/Natalie and the knife, the dancer on the balcony and Jason finding out what was in the theater but they were few and far between lost in the plodding narrative.


Etoile is notoriously difficult to get hold of. Medusa released the film on DVD in 2010 but unfortunately the audio and subtitles are only in Italian despite the English language track available for the film. If you'd like to actually be able to understand Etoile I'd head over to YouTube where someone has uploaded it in English in full and it looks vastly superior to the version on YouTube in 10 parts. I'm afraid I'm not sure where this video is sourced from. I know that the film has been released several times in Japan so perhaps it's from the Japanese laser disc release.


Etoile has an interesting premise let down by a poor screenplay, bad casting choices and a lack of direction. My overall impression of Etoile was that it didn't really know what it wanted to be. IMDB lists it as fantasy, thriller and romance and it's also attributed with being a horror yet it seems to fail at each of these genres. Etoile would have been a much better film if it tried to be true to just one of these genres instead of poorly attempting each. I personally think this film would have been a lot better if the horror element had been amped up and some of the more surreal elements were exaggerated and built upon. 

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