Scola's wordless musical-dance extravaganza traces the life of a ballroom from 1936 to the present. While couples meet, steal kisses, and separate, events in the world outside are echoed in their mimetic rituals and groupings; for the film is clearly intended as a historical and political allegory. Instead of offering any insights into France's shifting character, it relies largely on the audience's smug recognition of supposedly ‘significant' cultural symbols. Fatuous stuff, really, especially when several references are anachronistic. A strong cast struggles valiantly against Felliniesque stereotypes to convey the gaucheries of human coupling. But in a movie aiming for something more ambitious, that's simply not enough.
The people who go there is always the same, even the musicians. You can see all kind of people dancing all the fashion dances (depending on the age). 1983: women arrive at a dance hall one at a time. Men enter and couples dance, their personalities on display. With the dancers changing characters, the film travels in time. In 1936, the Popular Front gives energy to the working class. In 1940, on the eve of the German occupation, a slumming rich couple get their comeuppance. In 1944, as Paris is liberated, a German officer and a collaborator are rebuffed while a Resistance fighter gets a hero's welcome. 1946: US soldiers bring silk stockings and jazz. In 1956, rock and roll pushes aside the samba; the cops bust an alien. 1968: student radicals take over the abandoned dance hall. In 1983, it's a disco. The night ends.
The film won the 1984 César Award for Best Film ex-æquo (tie) with À nos amours. It also was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, representing Algeria (rather than France). At the 34th Berlin International Film Festival, Ettore Scola won the Silver Bear for Best Director.