"Polina" is the exquisitely choreographed story of a beautiful Russian girl named Polina (Veronika Zhovnytska) who dreams of dancing with the famous Bolshoi Ballet. Based on the graphic novel by Bastien Vivés, "Polina" immediately captures the audience with this lovely child who grows into an even more captivating, self-possessed young woman (Anastasia Shevitsova).
Raised by devoted parents who will sacrifice everything to ensure her success, Polina is accepted into a prestigious classical ballet academy, whose strict instructor, Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov), devotes hours training Polina. She is a disciplined student who never takes her eye off the prize --- a chance to audition for the Bolshoi.
A budding romance with a French dancer, Adrien (Niels Schneider), upends Polina's life. Instead of taking her much-earned place at the Bolshoi, she runs off to Provence, France with Adrien to study contemporary dance with Liria Elsaj (Juliette Binoche), a famous choreographer. Her new career choice looks promising until an ankle injury sidelines Polina, and Adrien moves on to another partner.
Polina flees to Paris, then to Antwerp, Belgium, where she is forced to find work as a waitress in a dingy club. A chance encounter with a man named Karl (Jeremie Belingard) irrevocably changes the course of her future.
Valerie Muller, who penned this engrossing screenplay, co-directs with Angelin Preljocaj, the well-known French dance/choreographer. Both were intrigued with Vivés' graphic art and the realistic world of dance she created.
"Polina" isn't the typical horror story of anorexia and vicious competitiveness amongst the participants. Rather, it's a celebration of the camaraderie of young people who love and appreciate the art.
Both Polinas are immensely engaging. Zhovnytska is beyond precious, especially when she's dancing to her own beat in the snow on her way home from the academy. Her accusation of Bojinski not watching her when she's performing in class is a testament to her youthful skills.
Shevtsova is magnetic. As both Muller and Preljocaj attest, "Polina" is not a dialogue-driven film. So, it is up to Shevtsova and her expressive, ethereal face to convey much of what is transpiring. She is a professional dancer, which was deemed a necessity for the role. Out of the 600 dancers who were auditioned for "Polina", Shevtsova was chosen because of her ability to perform as a ballerina and to act. She radiates a hypnotic screen presence.
Binoche has a lovely, smaller role, which features a remarkable solo contemporary dance performance. She's amazing. I'm sure David will have more to say about her --- he's obsessed.
A star with the Ballet de l'Opera de Paris, Belingard is the perfect choice to perform with Shevtsova --- they complement each other beautifully. The final dance featuring the two of them sent chills down my spine --- it's simply divine.
Though many of Hollywood's summer blockbusters may have bombed, "Polina" is another of the superb smaller films, such as "Maudie", "Lady Macbeth" and "Brigsby Bear" populating the cinema landscape. If you're bored with gun battles and car chases, seek out one of them.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
A young ballet dancer earns a spot in the famed Bolshoi troupe, the dream, I imagine, of every Russian girl who wants to be a ballerina. Yet she gives up on her classical ballet training to move to France, then Belgium... expanding her world in the process.
"Polina" is finely honed cinema of minimal dialogue, a visual experience featuring an amazingly expressive actress (Anastasia Shevtsova) who won the role over 600 other applicants. With 11 years of ballet in her real life, Shevtsova glides across the floor, whether performing ballet or modern dance.
Polina, as an eight-year-old, is portrayed by Veronika Zhovnytska in the first part of the film. She struggles mightily in her class, but her instructor senses a great latent talent hiding inside. I actually was a bit disappointed Polina was replaced by her older persona, especially since Jeanne and I experienced first-hand with our daughter how classical ballet training can be such an arduous undertaking.
The two most important males in Polina's life are Adrien (Niels Schneider), her first lover and a fellow dancer in Provence; and Karl (Jeremie Belingard), with whom she shares an apartment in Belgium.
Belingard is an accomplished dancer with France's Paris Opera Ballet, and it shows in his routines with Shevtsova.
Juliette Binoche plays Liria Elsaj, a French instructor whose troupe Polina joins later. Binoche, an Oscar winner for "The English Patient", has one sequence where she dances sans music, hidden from anyone else. We feel the delight Liria is experiencing as she goes through her personal routine. And the lovely Binoche enjoys herself immensely.
Co-directors Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj don't drag out their intent when presenting a scene. For example, when Polina, working as a bar maid, receives a phone call, we know why without having it spelled out for us. That's a sign of good writing from earlier in the movie. It set the stage for this particular event involving her father.
When Polina and Karl finally audition for the Brussels program director, the camera moves in mere seconds, morphing from a few of their well-rehearsed yet privately improvisational moves, to a stage that could very well be in front of a (never seen) live audience.
"Polina" captures the sheer joy of dancers performing --- not for an audience --- but for themselves. It evokes the old phrase: "Dance like no one is watching!".
Opinion: See It Now!