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The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

The Red Shoes is a timeless film. Sure, it was made over 60 years ago, but it feels as if it was made yesterday. There's no other way to describe all the glamour, the color, the flamboyance and the all-encompassing cinematics of the film. Although I don't personally feel that it's the Duo's best, it's at least as good as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death, so if it doesn't quite rate as highly as those in general, it may very well have to do with some form of sexism, or maybe it's just a rejection of highly-stylized melodrama, which I never suggest people to adopt. After all, what are Once Upon a Time in the West, Taxi Driver, Fight Club, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Requiem For a Dream and Blade Runner if not extremely-stylized melodramas? I'll admit that I prefer the melodrama of The Red Shoes because it's far more original, cinematic and "human" than the others I mentioned, but if you like even only one of those other films, you owe it to yourself to watch Powell/Pressburger, and The Red Shoes is as good a place to start as any.

The Red Shoes is a fever dream where an immature young woman is taken advantage of by older men. Now, the fact that I know from experience that this doesn't mean that the men actually hold the advantage over her is unfortunately counterpointed by the fact that it's adapted from a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, and his tales tended to be incredibly violent and caused extreme pain to his "heroines". While it's true that Anderson's original ending had the woman dancing the Red Shoes lose both of her legs, this film cannot allow itself to come to such an extreme finale. However, it can certainly be said to be a tragedy, and this is where The Red Shoes earns even more points. The man who seems to drive Vicky to desperate acts comes across in the end as the person who loses the most. It's clear that Vicky loses more but her strong-willed Mentor seems to suffer a nervous breakdown before our eyes during the film's stunning conclusion.

Even if The Red Shoes was an utter potboiler, any lover of cinema would want to watch it because it covers almost every single thing a film can do. Aside from having some of the greatest color cinematography ever recorded on film, it has tons of unexpected cinematic innovations and shows where cinema can actually go into something resembling dreams and nightmares. Most of the film is completely unexplained, but if you think about it, so is much of your and my lives. We cannot understand how we got from Point A to Point B, let alone Point M. The Red Shoes makes such things comprehensible, especially for people who don't want to figure it out for themselves. However, if you think you have a clue why your life is going the way it is, The Red Shoes may be even more enlightening.