Strictly Ballroom (1992): Australian Baz Luhrmann’s Film Debut, Romantic Dance Musical, Starring Paul Mercurio

Strictly Ballroom, which marks the directorial debut of Australian Baz Luhrmann, took the Cannes Film Fest by storm last year and grabbed the Audience Awards at both the Toronto and Palm Springs Film Festivals.

The reason: A mixture of romance, comedy, family melodrama–and of course dance–it’s an enjoyable crowd-pleaser. Luhrmann’s delightful romantic comedy is full of youthful dreams about making it.

The story revolves around love and conflict of two young people fighting for artistic freedom against repressive society. When 21 year old ballroom champion, Scott Hastings, commits the “sin” of dancing his own steps instead of those prescribed by the all-powerful Dance Federation, he is dumped by his partner, and his hopes of winning the Pan Pacific Grand Prize are crashed.

But out of the shadows emerges Fran, a shy Spanish girl, the ugly duckling of the dance studio run by Scott’s parents. Through sheer persistence, she convinces him to give her a chance and together they dance a rebellious storm, coached in Flamenco by Fran’s family.

It is a rare film that will appeal to all viewers, younger as well as older, male as well as female. Thus, the melodrama shrewdly features a two-generational plot. One the one hand, there is Scott’s hilariously overbearing mother, who is not unlike many Jewish or Italian domineering mamas. The ruthless Mrs. Hastings, once a champion dancer herself, has been pushing her son to excel ever since he was 6 year old. But there are also Fran’s parents, who are more sensitive and understanding than Scott’s.

The style of Strictly Ballroom is original, too, employing bold visual design (with striking colors) and fast and sharp cuts from dialogue scenes and close-ups of people talking directly to the camera to more elegant images of the dance sequences.

The two leads, played by the handsome Paul Mercurio and the appealing Tara Morice, exude immense warmth and charm that are likely to win all audiences.

This wild behind-the scenes look at ballroom dancing is hilarious and overwhelmingly entertaining, a cross between Carmen and Dirty Dancing.