Apart from being gorgeous to watch, ballet often lends itself to juicy psychodrama, from Dario Argento’s horror freak-out Suspiria (1977) and Robert Altman’s catty The Company (2003) to doc-director Frederick Wiseman’s thorough behind-the-scenes exposé La Danse (2009). Benjamin Millepied, the intense French dancer, choreographer and star of the nonfictional Reset, would seem a promising subject: He’s not only Natalie Portman’s husband (they met while working on Black Swan), but he also has a mercurial reputation as an undeniable talent who vacates his prestigious posts in haste.
So why is Reset so coy? Portman’s fans should skip it and go see Jackie instead; she’s not in this film at all, except (perhaps) on the unheard end of a phone call. More vexingly, Reset takes place during one productive month of Millepied’s tenure at the Paris Opera Ballet, where he was artistic director until he left in early 2016 under a mysterious cloud shortly after these events were captured. That’s a serious mistake—an omission that suggests Reset was intended for promotional purposes only.
What we get amounts to a feature-length Apple commercial, as Millepied sits furrowed in front of laptops, answers his cell phone, eats yogurts and, most compellingly, shapes his latest dance creation, “Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward.” Neither an arbitrary countdown clock nor murmurs of a union strike lend a sense of suspense to Reset’s sluggish flow. But whenever we’re in the presence of the lithe dancers or in the pit with fiery orchestral composer Nico Muhly (whose hair could star in the next Pixar film), the documentary has the allure of unfettered creativity.
Curiously, a deeper narrative can be sleuthed out if you’re digging for hints as to why Millepied would leave such a supportive environment. He’s not thrilled about how white the company is, and his leadership methods are unorthodox. Millepied, a born schmoozer, is also a little touchy-feely with the dancers. Reset could use a lot more discipline itself; it feels too flabby for the company it keeps.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf