POLINA — Review by Cate Marquis

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The French- and Russian-language drama Polina is a coming-of-age story about a promising young Russian ballerina named Polina in search of artistic fulfillment. But Polina‘s real appeal is not its story as much as its many moments of magical dance and fine choreography. Continue reading…

Renowned French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj has worked on several documentaries but this is his first drama. He co-directs with screenwriter Valerie Muller, who adapted the story from a graphic novel.

Fans of both classical ballet and modern dance will fine much to enjoy in this film, in part because the dance sequences are not little snippets used to season the story, but a major (and delightful) part of the film’s running time. Preljocaj’s often electrifying choreography is reason enough to see this film but the film also features Juliette Binoche and handsome French-Canadian actor Niels Schneider.

This is a story of a little Russian girl growing into a dancer, and then into an artist with her own adult ambitions, an artistic coming-of-age. Polina is played by Veronika Zhovnytska as a young girl, and by Anastasia Shevtsova as at teenager. Polina is a hard-working, talented girl but she is also very lucky in many ways. Her working-class parents are supportive and encouraging as she struggles with her classical ballet training, and thrilled when their daughter has a shot at the legendary Bolshoi.

But a chance modern dance performance fires the teenager’s imagination, and an attraction to fellow dance student Adrien (Niels Schneider) leads her to France, where she meets modern dance innovator Liria Elsaj (Juliette Binoche). In France, things do not go as smoothly for classically-trained Polina as she hoped and she ends up Antwerp, where things get rockier. Luckily, she meets handsome French choreographer (Jeremie Belingard), and her prospects begin to improve.

While the dance sequences are delightful, the story is less so because the three act plot often falls back on familiar tropes and we never really get into Polina’s head to glimpse her inner life.

Shevtsova does well enough with the acting, but shines much more in the dance sequences. Actors Binoche and Schneider do their own dancing, which is a nice touch, and a light touch in the editing lets us see that. The scenes later in the film, where Shevtsova and Belingard, another dancer, are improvising some choreography, are particularly magical.

But the dancing energizes the film, and cinematographer Georges Lachaptois captures some striking images to frame it. Polina is a visual treat, particularly for fans of dance.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.