Starring: Lisa Teige, Fabian Svegaard Tapia, Vebjørn Enger
Director: Katarina Launing
Running Time: 95 mins
Battle is a Norwegian film about a promising young talent preparing for a ballet competition whose rehearsals hit a roadblock when she develops a fascination for a world away from the intensity and high expectations of ballet.
Mixing the intense pressure in the development of talent as seen in the likes of Whiplash with a down-to-earth romance, you’d think Battle would be a film filled to the brim with riveting emotional drama. However, while the film certainly deserves plaudits for keeping its feet well on the ground throughout, it doesn’t go far enough to grab you at any point with its key themes, whether that be on the romantic side or the dancing side of the story, making for a frustratingly slow, uncharismatically gritty and ultimately rather dull watch.
Now, before I get into why Battle just doesn’t work all too well, the one thing I can’t deny is that it is a well-structured and impressively level-headed film. Not intending to go to the almost ludicrous but exhilarating extents of Whiplash, Battle keeps its feet well on the ground throughout, further impressing with a romance that’s fully in line with what you’d expect in reality, and far from the fairytale that we’re often so used to seeing on the big screen.
As a result, if you do find yourself captivated by the film early on, then you will be engaged consistently throughout, and the film’s reluctance to ever move towards dramatic hyperbole or romantic melodrama is a welcome decision, even if things don’t entirely work on the emotional level that is intended.
And that’s my big issue with Battle. For all its level-headedness and down-to-earth drama, there’s a real lack of strong emotional drama or intrigue as a result of a frustratingly dull and gritty story, never engrossing you to the extent that it can show off the full emotional and dramatic weight of its core ideas and themes.
The film tells the story of a promising young ballet dancer whose path takes an unexpected turn when she meets a street dancer, who introduces her to a different world to what she knows. In that, there’s a real opportunity to develop themes of anxiety and pressure – with the ballet dancer shirking off her responsibilities prior to a major competition. Sadly, although her brief altercations with her increasingly frustrated ballet instructor make for a few moments of good tension, the film doesn’t really give the emotional trauma and turmoil of being put under so much pressure enough time to develop into a core element of the story, and is often overshadowed by some of the more shallow anxieties of our main character that stem from her relationship with the man outside of ballet.
Meanwhile, the differences between herself and the world of street dancing also opens up the way for an interesting assessment of social segregation and inequality – not necessarily in a negative light, but further demonstration of the roots of the core differences between two entirely different worlds in ballet and street dancing would have been absolutely fascinating to see.
It feels really harsh to criticise a film that keeps its head impressively out of the clouds and tells a story with so much potential for riveting drama and emotion, but the frustrating reality is that Battle fails to deliver on a consistent basis, with poor pacing and what can only be described as a lack of melodrama (something I never thought I would say), not giving you the opportunity as the viewer to really engage with the main emotions that should be more clearly on display.
In the end, I was really disappointed with Battle. It’s a film with so much potential, featuring impressively level-headed drama throughout along with a number of key themes that at first look to be ripe with riveting emotion and intrigue. Sadly, things really don’t come together, and with frustrating pacing and arguably too little in the way of high drama, the film ultimately ends up as quite a dull watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 5.9 overall.