Much is being made of Bruce Beresford’s latest film, Mao’s Last Dancer. It has been released amidst a flurry of discussion about the nature of Australian film, and because it doesn’t deal with a particularly Australian story, it seems to break away from the stereotypical Australian film. Unfortunately, I think this will be the most memorable feature of the film.
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Mao’s Last Dancer is the true story, based on the autobiography of the same title, of Li Cunxin, a ballet dancer plucked from obscurity in a small Chinese village to study ballet in Beijing, who went on to defect from the People’s Republic and achieve stardom in the United States. It is an inspiring story, but for my money, not a particularly memorable one.
As we expect from Bruce Beresford, the cinematography is superb, the performances convincing, even from some iconic Australian actors playing Americans. But I think that the only thing particularly noteworthy about the film is its subject matter. This is an Australian film that has next to nothing to do with Australia, and while I would be happy to see more films like this, I fear that the more endearing aspects of Mao’s Last Dancer are overshadowed by this fact.
A good film, with a rather dull plot but spectacular performances, and one that offers excellent insight into a culture we tend to stereotype rather than engage with. Watch it when you’re not at risk of falling asleep.