The poster for "The Paris Opera" declares that "the drama starts before the curtain rises." Unfortunately, that's not entirely true.
The French documentary follows the hallowed institution through its 2015-2016 season, the first under director Stéphane Lissner. Filmmaker Jean-Stéphane Bron takes a cinéma-vérité approach, hanging back and letting the audience observe the happenings, without commentary. Although the action of the film is chronological, Bron hops around from place to place — boardroom, dressing room, practice room — and from subject to subject, so quickly that, without guidance, it's nearly impossible to place anything in context. The fragments never quite coalesce into a full picture.
There are some exceptions: We meet Mikhail Timoshenko, a Russian bass-baritone, at his first audition for the company. As the film progresses, it's fun to see him, all rumpled curls and star-struck eyes, begin to find his place in the reality of what is clearly his dream job. Likewise, watching a director trying to figure out how to bring a live bull named Easy Rider onstage for a production of Schoenberg's "Moses und Aron" without anyone getting trampled or gored is a small but enjoyable vignette of backstage (and barnyard) life.
The theater is often a life characterized by hours of drudgery, broken by moments of glory. In that sense, "The Paris Opera" is a good representation of the struggle behind the spectacle. In movies, though, it's sometimes best to even out those proportions — a little less absolute truth, and a little more bull.
Unrated. At Landmark's E Street Cinema. Contains nothing objectionable. In French and German with subtitles. 110 minutes.