×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Polina’

A ballerina takes a wayward journey to find her inner street dancer in a drama that stays on the teasingly austere surface.

Director:
Valérie Müller, Angelin Preljocaj
With:
Anastasia Shevtsova, Veronika Zhovnytska, Juliette Binoche, Aleksey Guskov, Niels Schneider, Jeremie Belingard, Miglen Mirtchev, Kseniya Kutepova.
Release Date:
Aug 25, 2017

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4383288/

One of the defining movie moments of the last 40 years — a sequence at once ridiculous, iconic, and enthralling — is the ballet-school audition climax of “Flashdance,” in which the aspiring dance superstar played by Jennifer Beals prances and struts and gyrates and, finally, break-dances to the synth-pop glory of Giorgio Moroder and Irene Cara, wowing the world of highbrow snoot and overthrowing it at the same time. “Polina,” co-directed by Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj, turns the mythology of that sequence into a European art film — or, more precisely, stretches it out into a teasingly austere, deliberately paced movie about a young Russian ballerina’s progress from elegant classical drone to free-spirited something-or-other.

Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova) has grown up in a joyless land of oppression, nuclear power plants, and occupational dead ends, and it’s her family’s dream that she’ll use her talent as a dancer to ascend. Her father, Anton (Miglen Mirtchev), is some sort of gold-chain-wearing shady operator who’s perpetually in hock to the Mob, which means that thugs will burst into his home — or trash it when he’s not around — to make sure that he pays his debts and does what he’s told. The movie treats this situation as the essence of Russian workaday normality, as if he were a plumber. Both Anton and his wife, Natalia (Kseniya Kutepova), want their beloved daughter to triumph through dance, but it’s as if they were saying, “Escape from our world, because it’s your only hope.”

Polina gets admitted to a somberly prestigious dance school, and for a few scenes we see her as a coltish 8-year-old (played by Veronika Zhovnytska) who comes under the tutelage of one of those hard-driving Balanchinian drill instructors. The scowling Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov), who’s like a past-his-prime Rudolf Nureyev crossed with Tommy Lee Jones, singles her out to give her a hard time (“You’re not very limber”), but, of course, that’s just because he can see what extraordinary potential she has. The whole trajectory of a movie like this one is based on the audience’s desire to see a diamond-in-the-rough sculpted into a dazzling jewel, and for a while it looks like that’s how it’s going, especially when Polina is accepted into the Bolshoi Academy.

The co-director, Angelin Preljocaj, is a reknowned French choreographer, and the fact that he shares directing credit suggests the sort of dance-film trance-out the filmmakers are going for. “Polina,” based on a graphic novel, tries in its very form to mirror the contours of a dancer’s sensibility. There are lengthy stretches without much dialogue, and Anastasia Shevtsova, a dancer with the Saint Petersburg Mariinsky Theater who invests Polina with a determination as free-floating as it is stubborn, is held up as a ripe visual object for the audience’s contemplation. She resembles the young Meg Tilly, and her serene, rose-lipped beauty is presented as a model-like mask that contains multitudes of feeling.

Or, at least, that’s the idea. At moments, “Polina” recalls Robert Altman’s “The Company,” which had a minimum of dialogue yet located an invisible thread of action in a dancer’s habits, rituals, glories, and calamities. It caught the interconnectedness of movement and life. “Polina” doesn’t have the craftsmanship to pull that off. The film is intriguing on the surface, but the scenes have no interior hum, because they haven’t been conceived psychologically.

What propels the movie is a kind of high-vs.-low, classical-vs.-contemporary, ballet-studio-vs.-street iconography. Just when she’s supposed to be hunkering down at the Bolshoi Academy, Polina cuts and runs. She has an affair with one of her classmates, Adrien (Niels Schneider), a sexy French dancer who looks like Michelangelo’s David, and she decides, for no good reason, to follow him to France. Or does she have a good reason?

Polina leaves her ballet career in the dust because it bores her, and maybe that’s reason enough. Yet she still yearns to dance, so she joins Adrien at a modern-dance school in Aix-en-Provence, run by an instructor played by Juliette Binoche, who’s critical of Polina because she’s so rigidly trained. Binoche, all too briefly, gives the movie some dramatic snap, and we of course want to see her loft Polina into the stratosphere of majestic movement. But the thrust of “Polina” is that its heroine needs to fall from grace before she can rise.

She keeps messing up and flaking out, abandoning Binoche’s school the same way she did the Bolshoi, becoming a cocktail waitress in a punky dive in Antwerp. It’s all supposed to be because she’s now listening to her inner voice. Yet if only the audience felt connected to that voice. “Polina” is vivid as dance but vague as drama. Polina hooks up with a crew of street dancers, and improvises a number to the EDM sounds of 79D, flinging her long legs around in a style that suggests ballet gone wild. By the end, you see the road she’s taken, and why she had to go there, but it’s a road viewed almost entirely from the outside. You may seriously end up wishing for the comparative inner journey you got — yes — in “Flashdance.”

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Polina'

Reviewed at Magno, New York, August 16, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 108 MIN.

Production: A UGC Distribution release of an Everybody On Deck, TF1 Droits Audiovisuals, UGC Images, France 2 Cinéma production. Producers: Maxim Ajjawi, Gaëlle Bayssière, Didier Creste.

Crew: Directors: Valérie Müller, Angelin Preljocaj. Screenplay: Valérie Müller. Camera (color, widescreen): Georges Lechaptois. Editors: Fabrice Rouaud, Guillaume Saignol.

With: Anastasia Shevtsova, Veronika Zhovnytska, Juliette Binoche, Aleksey Guskov, Niels Schneider, Jeremie Belingard, Miglen Mirtchev, Kseniya Kutepova.

More Film

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content