If you didn’t know any better, you might think that Elvia Lund’s extraordinary Bobbi Jene was a fiction film. Danish director and cinematographer Lund, editor Adam Nielsen, and composer Uno Helmersson have employed narrative story techniques in crafting a bold and intimate tale about fear and desire, romance and ambition. But Bobbi Jene is actually a deeply personal documentary about a woman turning thirty and taking stock of her life. “I want to get to that place where I have no strength to hide anything,” Iowa native Bobbi Jene Smith says, and that is evident from the brief opening scene of Bobbi dancing naked and alone. When she was twenty-one, Bobbi moved to Israel to become a member of the world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company, led by choreographer Ohad Naharin, developer of the unique Gaga movement language. (I’ve seen her dance several times with Batsheva and have been touched and impressed by her abilities.) Now that she’s nearly thirty, Bobbi has decided to go back to America and create pieces herself, which she tells Naharin, with whom she had a relationship. “I love being in the company. I love dancing for you,” she says during their talk at a busy café. “I just feel it’s time for me to go make my own work.” Naharin carefully responds, “So it’s painful, but it’s probably also what you need.” Bobbi is not only leaving the troupe but her boyfriend, twenty-year-old company dancer Or Schraiber, who loves her but does not want to leave Tel Aviv. We see her struggling with her decision, trying to convince herself that she can both make a career in the States while also maintaining a long-distance relationship with Or. Once back in America, Bobbi concentrates on her durational solo piece A Study on Effort, a raw, intense work that combines power with vulnerability as she explores pleasure and pain. As she prepares to perform the piece at the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, all the different parts of her life threaten to overwhelm her.
“The film is a dance,” Bobbi says in the press notes, and it’s an exquisite one. Lind, whose previous documentary feature was 2014’s Songs for Alexis, about a pair of teenage lovers, moves her camera like she is photographing an epic performance. The two met through mutual friends, and Lind instantly wanted to make a documentary about Bobbi, “an uncompromising female artist who was not afraid to push boundaries,” as she describes in her director’s note. And there are indeed no boundaries as Lind, who recently gave birth to a child with boyfriend Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina), who plays guitar on one song on the soundtrack, goes beyond being a mere fly on the wall and Bobbi holds nothing back, never flinching away from the camera. Nor does her mother, her friends and colleagues, and Or, who doesn’t seem to know or care that Lind is always right there, even when he flashes his genitals over FaceTime. Bobbi Jene is about not only one woman’s drive to establish her own creativity and identity but also the freedom to be true to who you are and what you desire. You’ll get deeply involved in Bobbi’s situation, but you’ll also take a good look at yourself and wonder about your own sense of commitment to life. The first film at Tribeca to win Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature, and Best Editing in a Documentary Feature, Bobbi Jene opens at the Quad on September 22, with Lind and Smith participating in Q&As following the 6:45 shows on September 22 and 23 and after the 2:25 screenings on September 23 and 24 (Smith only) in addition to introducing the 9:00 show together on September 22.