Monday, August 21, 2017

In Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj's POLINA, a young dancer must find her identity

Art, creativity, dance, choreography, and finally finding oneself: all of these themes shimmer and glow, wax and wane in the course of the new and unusual movie, POLINA. A French film with Russian roots, it is co-directed by Valérie Müller and her husband, French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj. This pairing of filmmaker and choreographer results in one of the better examples of a movie that tackles art and creativity and actually allows its audience to discover in a believable and dramatic fashion exactly how these things come into being.

There is still a mystery at the movie's core. There must be where creativity is concerned. But the filmmakers (shown above, with Mr. Preljocaj on the right) manage to get so much right -- from a youth spent in the service of one's parents' desires for their children's future to the awakening of a classical ballet dancer to the surprise and joy to be found in modern dance -- that Polina, both the character and her film, seems by virtue of how she blooms and evolves, to be quite an original creation.

As played by two actresses (Veronika Zhovnytska, above, center, is the young schoolgirl, while Anastasia Shevtsova, below, with Niels Schneider, portrays the more mature version), Polina is fascinating figure who never reveals herself fully. This makes the movie even richer, I suspect. She's very talented, smart and caring, and her love for dance -- ballet, modern and finally choreography itself -- is clearly and beautifully demonstrated by both the actresses and the filmmakers.

Director Müller has made two documentaries previously (this is her second feature-length film) but Preljocaj is both a filmmaker and a rather famous choreographer. This film collaboration seems an inspired one, especially in its use of choreography, which is first-class throughout. In fact, TrustMovies does not recall another narrative film (except maybe The Red Shoes and some of Gene Kelly's work) in which choreography proved this vital and important to the tale being told.

From Polina's ballet training to her sudden but full-out revelation of the beauty of modern dance to her first experience with improvisation and finally to her incipient choreography, each step, and its accompanying dancing, seems wonderfully on-the-mark, giving us access not only to the dance itself, but to Polina's experience of it. The film's finale offers one of the most beautiful, moving, and glorious dance duets I can recall -- giving us Polina, her partner (Paris Opera star Jérémie Bélingard, above, a knock-out) and Preljocaj at the top of their game.

Along the path of Polina's education, she is introduced to modern dance via the choreography and person of the head of dance company, played with enormous heat, heart and understanding by the great Juliette Binoche, above. (Is there nothing Ms Binoche cannot do, I wonder? Except play comedy, when the director is as graceless as Bruno Dumont.) This section is as fascinating and full as the rest of the film, and marks yet another change of direction for our troubled heroine.

Ms Müller allows Polina to work out her pathway and life without resorting to melodramatic flourishes. Thus the movie is relatively quiet, despite the fact of her father's involvement with what looks like the Russian mafia. Without even a mention of it, the film is absolutely feminist, and it also offers life lessons without unduly pushing them upon us. Polina is a positive, engaging surprise in just about every way. (That's Alexsey Guskov, below, who plays Polina's smart, stern and caring ballet instructor with just the right degree of rectitude and sentiment.)

From Oscilloscope Films and running 109 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, August 25 in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. On September 1, it opens in Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt) and Washignton DC (at the Landmark E Street), with a limited nationwide rollout to follow. Here in South Florida it opens on Friday, September 15, in Miami at the Bill Cosford Cinema, in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theater, at The Movies of Delray and Lake Worth, and maybe elsewhere, too. Click here then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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