Year: 2017
Director(s): Valerie Muller, Angelin Preljocaj
Writer(s): Valerie Muller, Bastien Vives
Region of Origin: France

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: Unrated
Color, 108 mins

Synopsis: A young girl studies classical ballet. As a young woman she turns to modern dance and choreography. (Source)

Polina is pure poetry in motion. Through song and dance, directors Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj have created an elegant look at the intersection between life and art. Though the story’s impressionistic yearnings might’ve fallen flat in the hands of any others, it stands tall as a triumphant encapsulation of life itself, finding parallels between expression and the trials that fuel creation. Adding to the film’s abundance, star Anastasia Shevtsova gives a fierce performance, transforming before our eyes with physicality and soul. Anchored by beautiful dance numbers and an intimate scope, Polina is a winning coming-of-age tale about learning to feel, taking risks, making mistakes and finding ourselves somewhere in between.

As a child, Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova) longs for just one thing, becoming a ballerina. Despite a revered but tough mentor, (Aleksei Guskov) and financial burdens taken on by her parents, Polina fights to fulfill her dream no matter what. As a young woman, Polina gains entry into the Bolshoi, Russia’s most prestigious dance company. Instead of celebrating, however, Polina can’t help but yearn for more. She quickly falls in love with a fellow student, who introduces the classically trained dancer to more modern, impressionistic methods. Moving to France on a limb, Polina learns the hard way that while a discipline like dance can be taught, the inspiration needed to make it come alive is much more elusive.

Dancing happens by itself”, says a young Polina early on. It soon becomes apparent, however, that though she may understand this sentiment logically, she has yet to feel or really live it. In the most graceful way, Muller and Preljocaj’s film is Polina’s journey to understanding such an intangible idea. Through her eyes, we get to see what it’s like to devote everything to chasing an idealized version of ourselves. In fitting form, Polina’s journey to perfection requires unexpected dips, turns and most importantly, failure. In this context, Muller and Preljocaj show dance as an inextricable collision of pain, endurance and finally triumph. Polina’s journey ultimately illustrates how life is it’s own kind of dance, one in which we take things as they come, adapt and turn repetitive routines into and expressions of life and liberation. Throughout, Muller and Prelocaj inject sly moments of majesty in the mundane and dreamlike moments of beauty which turn musical numbers into something more surreal.

Even with Muller and Preljocaj’s delicate direction, the film wouldn’t have a beating heart without Anastasia Shevtsova’s electric performance. Shevtsova, a veteran dancer, tells Polina’s story through her body. Muller and Preljocaj accentuate her physicality in ways that immerse us into her struggles, allowing Shevtsova to thrive through choreography and an instinctual approach to the material. In this way, her character embodies intangible ideas without need of dialogue, commanding each scene with multi-faceted nuance. Backing her up, Jeremie Belingard resets the film’s focus in its second half, turning in a character who, in many ways, is totally liberated by his art. Together, Belingard and Shevtsova have palpable chemistry, igniting the screen with a strong finish. Along the way, Juliette Binoche and Aleksei Guskov shape Polina’s search for identity in memorable ways, playing mentor types who push her to where she needs to be.

With its restraint and hypnotic pace, Polina is a celebration of how art can free us in ways that nothing else can. It’s also a reminder that while we can easily get bogged down by what’s around us, we should never forget to observe and adapt. Armed with handful of exquisite dance numbers and a stirring performance from its leading lady, Polina is a burst of life to the genre, choreographing the awakening of a soul and the transcendence of art.

SG