Polina Review - Breathtaking Magic, A Captivating Masterpiece

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Polina, from Oscillscope Laboratories, presents the story of an artist, a beautiful, dedicated, dancer who is poised on greatness when she diverts her path and is shattered then from those fragments of her choices she creates enchanting poetry.  

Directed by Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj, Polina stars Veronika Zhovnytska as the young Polina and Anastasia Shevtsova as the adult Polina with Juliette Binoche as Liria Elsaj, Aleksei Guskov as Bojinski, and Miglen Mirtchev as Anton and Kseniya Kutepova as Natalia. Polina was written by Valeria Muller based on the novel of the same name by Bastien Vives.

We met Polina as her mother, Natalia, played by Kseniya Kutepova, accompanies her to the first day of auditions for the Ballet Academy. She along with group of pre-pubescent girls are all undergoing the cursory and first phase rejection: measured, height, leg length, illnesses all recorded, and finally, if all is perfect accepted to trained under the watchful eye of Bojinski, played by Aleksei Guskov.

Ballet of course becomes the life of our young Polina, played by Veronika Zhovnytska, who explains to her dad, Anton, played by Miglen Mirtchev, who is overjoyed at her success as he knows she will be Prima Ballerina one day.

The next scenes are filled with training and attempts to please Bojinski and wondering why, as she already knows she is the best why he doesn’t see it; Family, Polina helping her mother, hunting for dinner in the woods with her father.

We are given a hint at what lies in her soul as she walks home one day in the winter, the young girl breaks in an impromptu contemporary dance spontaneously choreographed, she is a dancer and for her she is living her dream.

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Soon time passes and nine years has come and gone and Polina, now, played by Anastasia Shevtsova, having earned the respect of her instructor freely asks him about his life. Time has come for the audition, she has worked for her entire young life, acceptance into the Bolshoi, Russia’s Premiere Ballet Academy.

It is here that she meets a young French dancer, Adrien, played by Niels Schneider, who has come to Russia to audition for the Bolshoi also. At the end of the day, she is in; he is not.

For her parents, Natalia and Anton, the effort, hard work on both sides, the acceptance of unsavory positions to earn more money, even borrowing money from the local loan shark, to make sure her tuition doesn’t lapse, this moment is the pinnacle of every dream, every hope, and worth every hardship. They will be the parents of a Prima Ballerina at the Bolshoi.

The scene in which Polina explains to her mother that she is going to spend some time in the South of France and study contemporary dance with Adrien, is brilliant. Natalia ends all the nonsense talk from her daughter in a rare display of out of control emotion. It is exceptional.

The film moves into Act II at this point and what began with such hope, young love, and belief ended leaving Polina out, alone, determined, skilled, educated and driven, in Paris where she finds herself broke and homeless.

Polina is a masterpiece. More than really liking this film, it was captivating from the beginning. It is attention grabbing and remains that way.

While not a true story it could be considered a compilation of stories gathered the world over from every gifted and driven artist; innate knowledge of position, the decision to follow the inner voice over the protestations of those whom you love; you are the heartbeat of your artistic expression and it feeds you, fuels you and keeps you when the money runs out, the food is scarce and homelessness is better than returning to mediocrity or simply expectation.

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The filmmakers handle these hurdles with grace, our Polina moves to Paris, runs out of money, fortunately she is a classically trained dancer and doesn’t need or desire much food, and her homelessness is short lived or so it appears in the film. Sleeping in the 24 hour laundry, she stashes her day and night wardrobe behind the dryer.

Her inner artist is driven and like many, with similar stories, the fates after endurance through the storm seem to smile, briefly, and the door to the next chapter opens. This of course happens here, and for the audience, the brief glimpse of Polina as a child, dancing to her own beat, with movements untaught, unknown, choreographed instantaneously performed become the yet to be realized future.

The cast, gifted and well trained, is relatively unknown for American audiences except for Juliette Binoche. When Ms. Binoche enters, the film takes on elevated expectation.

An exceptional film, Polina has all the benchmarks of an early Oscar favorite as it highlights the hardships of artistic expression and what some artists face, even those in America, for their craft. The feeling of disappointing those whom you love, accusations of misplaced loyalties, devotion and allegiances. Of holding on to the impossible dream and all that work and this is it.

Polina is mesmerizing, poetry in motion.  An absorbing and compelling film Polina brings the journey, that nearly every artist in any discipline can add colors to the sketch, of the artist finding a place where the heart beat’s to fulfillment.   

In English subtitles, Polina commands the attention of centerstage. It is a wonderful film.

Polina opens, in limited release in the United States, on August 25, 2017. 


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