reviewed by Marc Glassman
Rumba. A film by Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon & Bruno Romy, who are the co-stars, co-writers and co-directors.
The Belgian film Rumba combines the ever-popular Cuban rhythmic style with the choreography of modern dance, vaudeville and slapstick comedy to create a unique cinematic entry. Nearly wordless, the film proceeds through extended set pieces, which lurch the clunky narrative forward. Although the story has some importance, Rumba’s charm rests on the talents of its key performers, Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy.
The trio have been working together in circuses and cabaret acts for over a decade and their mutual understanding pays dividends in most scenes. Abel and Gordon, who are real life partners, instinctively understand each other. Abel is a short athletic figure who reminds one of Buster Keaton, thanks to his somber airs and understated physical grace. Gordon is an angular redhead with an absurd yet balletic sensibility; she’s a curious combination of Tilda Swinton and Lucille Ball. Romy has a malleable face and is slightly heavier; he’s the perfect foil for the other two.
Rumba’s story would be melodramatic if it wasn’t handled in such a quirky manner. Dom and Fiona are teachers by day and rumba performers by night. All’s well until the fateful night when they swerve their car to avoid hitting a man (Bruno) attempting to commit suicide by standing in the middle of the road. Fiona loses a leg and Dom, his memory.
While recovering from their injuries, the bereft duo burn down their house (a slapstick tour de force) and then are separated when Dom goes out the next morning to get pain chocolate and forgets where he lives. Bruno, still morose but no longer suicidal, takes Dom in as a partner in his beach variety food stand — but where is Fiona, who imagines that Dom is gone? Not far away. Certainly close enough for a happy ending—if that’s what this wacky trio wants to give the audience.
Rumba is not for everyone. Its storyline is grim although it is rendered amusingly, like an exceptionally dark episode of Mr. Bean. Or a particularly sad Charlie Chaplin classic — and there were some, back in the day. If you like dance and slapstick and don’t mind a bit of melodrama and a lot of whimsy, Rumba is the film for you. If not, the talented trio of Abel/Gordon/Romy will likely survive to create another film in a couple of years.