I haven’t felt as conflicted about a movie in a very long time as when the credits rolled for director Isabelle Stever’s erotic German drama, Grand Jeté. For starters, I definitely have some questions! Why the choice to tackle a topic as taboo as incest? Why does the first twenty minutes of Grand Jeté meander endlessly, at first filmed in brutal closeup as an otherwise unseen dancer’s bones stretch during workouts? Were the sexual situations simulated considering things get pretty extreme? How could a mother do these things with… her birth son? Expect a ridiculous number of questions with very few logical answers in bizarre drama, Grand Jeté.
As described in the dictionary, Grand Jeté means “a jump in which a dancer springs from one foot to land on the other with one leg forward of their body and the other stretched backward while in the air.” We hear the command uttered multiple times during the opening of Grand Jeté—apt, given its subject matter and title. Nadja (Sarah Grether), once an aspiring young ballerina with big dreams, now lives as a ballet instructor for children. Years ago, she left behind her son, Mario (Emil von Schönfels, Stambul Garden), to chase her dreams. Mario grew up with his loving grandmother, and minimal contact with Nadja. Now, she desperately wants to reconnect.
Nadja shows up on Mario’s doorstep stunned at the man he has become. He looks different from his pictures, and so does she apparently—her weathered dancer body is starting to break down. The doctor recommends a cane, but Nadja refuses to oblige even as her feet bleed in agony. On the other hand, Mario has a chiseled and calculated physique that he works hard to maintain. Things take a turn for the weird when Nadja follows Mario off to a competition of sorts in which the victor must hold a massive dangling weight from their genitals. People place bets on whose conjones will last the longest!
Nothing can prepare the viewer for the level of unforeseen incest between mother and son that soon rears its ugly head. Each sex scene is graphically filmed, but in a weirdly tasteful way. Yes, explicit copulation and graphic nudity are on the menu here, skirting along the edges of exploitation. Grand Jeté depicts a weirdly intoxicating portrait, commenting on the closeness of family, amidst two flawless performances. If it didn’t get so borderline incomprehensible at times, there is potential here for a great film. There is a fine line between daring cinema and pretentious cinema—sadly, Grand Jeté doesn’t realize that there is a way to live and breath the sex lives of these characters without stopping to fully derail the movie.
Absent of the extraordinary turns from Sarah Grether and Emil von Schönfels, I am not sure Grand Jeté would even be worth a single watch. The script from Anke Stelling and Anna Melikova is just all over the place. The lovemaking is steamy and hot in a way, until one remembers that they are mother and son. Nadja and Mario have a connection that goes far beyond the realm of tastefulness. An appalling ending begets the ultimate takeaway in Grand Jeté, signaling that this was all just for spectacle and shock value without having anything of substance to say on the matter. Another question the film simply has no answer for, and frustratingly, so: what is to be gained from this torrid affair?
Grand Jeté spreads pleasure across the land during a special advance screening at Laemmle Royal with actor Sarah Nevada Grether in-person for a Q&A on September 20th, followed by a week-long run at Laemmle NoHo 7 on September 23rd.