Top of the Docs #37 – LFF Special: ‘If It Were Love’ (2020) Reminisces on Human Touch

Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media. This month takes a look at the best documentaries screening across the UK’s film festival scene. This week we are at the London Film Festival!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The choreography of longing and the desire for touch is innately intimate in If It Were Love

The line between performer and performance becomes blurred as the work bleeds into life in Patric Chiha’s documentary: If It Were Love (Si c’était de l’amour). It seems fitting that in this era of theatrical pause, where the arts are succumbing to judgement, that a film would arrive as an appreciation of the intimacies and duplexities of performance.

Following choreographer Gisèle Vienne’s Crowd from theatre to theatre, If It Were Love intimately tracks the movers and the movement of this euphoric ode to the 90’s rave scene. Observationally, the melting of life on-stage and off-stage is a documented homogenous experience. Although the language of the performer is difficult to translate, on the stage, bodies are the front line for communication. Frozen in time, these performers stand surrounded by litter, their bare feet on dirt. Slowly, their bodies creak back into life, limbs finding life again as if the pulsing beat of the soundtrack has re-awoken them.

The lives their bodies harbour on stage are not their own; puppets suspended in this world of theatrical existence. The revel of Gisèle Vienne is as dramatic as she desires her own show; the camera pulls back to find her as the only body in the auditorium, watching perceptively, she directs her dancers to find “one common breath.”

Sentiments of longing and desiring seep through If It Were Love. Skin becomes a penetrable wall for emotions to seep through as bodies leave human form and become instruments for theatrical direction. Moving at half speed under neon blue light, time stops, only two bodies are now moving. The couple is inexplicably drawn to each other, while one moves fluidly the other stutters through choreography. A hyper sensuality hangs over the dramatic affair as, one by one, other frozen bodies thaw and join this buffering dance of limb integration. Describing his choreography, emotional sentiments of longing and desiring only to end up alone again. In the dark shadow of blue-tone light, we see the end of this moment: a hand over his mouth and a tear down his cheek.

This queer techno rave of erotic suspense garners gossip from theatre to theatre, as if it were between rooms at a house party. The backstage dressing rooms are a space for decompressing after the emotionally strenuous and physically testing performance, where the camera meets these disciplined dancers in conversations about their on-stage persona. The camera hovers closely as performers discuss how they reach a mental place that re-lives and draws from one’s own emotional past, the result of which is lying in the dirt, sobbing, in slow motion.

“It might be biennial but isn’t it beautiful?” The perfect rhetorical question to describe the emotionally intelligent theatrical show captured in this documentary. Chiha instinctually moulds off-stage moments with on-stage montages to deliver a balanced narrative constructed around the contortion of bodies and the freedom of feelings.

The choreography of longing and the desire for touch is innately intimate in If It Were Love. Made even more pressing when we can’t hug our friends, hold our loved ones or dance with strangers. The value of human touch is a craving more visceral, having been deprived of it. Both Crowd and, subsequently, If It Were Love are wonderfully bold in their approaches to the nuance of vulnerable human connection.

Dir: Patric Chiha

Prod: Charlotte Vincent

Cast: Philip Berlin, Marine Chesnais, Kerstin Daley-Baradel, Gisèle Vienne

Header Image courtesy of IMDb