POLINA — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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polina posterIn the film Flashdance, when Jennifer Beals is about to toss away her ambitions to be a ballerina, her boyfriend tells her, “When you give up your dream, you die.” But what if you are fulfilling someone else’s dream? Apparently, you never really live. That is what happens to the title character in Polina, about a young Russian girl who spends her entire youth training for the Bolshoi Ballet while fulfilling her parents’ wish, while her father must resort to shady means to pay her way. Inevitably, Polina rebels as a teen. Continue reading…

Now played by Anastasia Shevtsova, all pouting lips, saucer-like green eyes and lithe legs and limbs, Polina joins her French beau in Aix-en-Provence while switching to contemporary style. And, just as one would predict if one has seen The Turning Point, he dumps her for another dancer. Finally left to her own devices, Polina goes to Antwerp where she is finally able to figure out what she herself desires.

For too long, Polina is a cipher, a blank slate, a stick figure waiting to fleshed out. That is, until she comes into own and grows more interesting during the Belgian portion of the story. As she tells her father who has hunted her down, “I’m sick of mindlessly executing other people’s choreography. I need to look at the world.”

Based on a graphic novel, the world of Polina most comes alive during the dance sequences, which is to be expected since Angelin Preljocaj, co-directing with screenwriter Valerie Muller, is a well-respected choreographer. From one shot of an audition filmed from above the rafters to the final number done in a moonlit nighttime setting in the snow, Preljocaj captures the thrill of physical movement. The film also benefits from the glowing presence of Juliette Binoche as the modern-dance master who tries to shake the formality of ballet training out of Polina.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.