Polina: Hitting your stride
by Vittoria Scarpa
- VENICE 2016: Young actress Anastasia Shevtsova is the splendid lead in Angelin Preljocaj and Valérie Müller's film, which tells a story of passion and artistic development in the world of dance
If there's a central theme in this year's Venice Days selection – and this can be pinpointed through the presence of strong, pugnacious female characters – the most representative film of this edition is undoubtedly Polina [+see also:
interview: Angelin Preljocaj, Valérie …
film profile], the thrilling story of a ballerina and her artistic development, which marks the directorial debut of renowned French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj and his wife, filmmaker Valérie Müller. It takes the audience on a journey, shoulder to shoulder with Russian dancer Anastasia Shevtsova – of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world – as she forges a career and a professional identity, in search of her own unique form of expression and striving to hit her stride.
Shevtsova plays Polina, a young woman whose life revolves entirely around ballet. Having studied it since she was a child in Moscow, where she was a pupil of the eminent but strict teacher Bojinski (Russian actor Aleksei Guskov), she grew up obsessed with the dream of becoming a great dancer, sure in the knowledge that to be successful, the only thing she had to dedicate her life to was dancing. With the full support of her parents, she worked long and hard to get into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy: hour upon hour of training, with very little time for any relaxation. The sequences in the rehearsal room, where grace and beauty reign, are interspersed with Polina's more mundane day-to-day life, where the domestic harmony is disrupted by the threats of her father's creditors. To get away from this situation, and out of love for Adrien (Niels Schneider, seen recently in Dark Inclusion [+see also:
interview: Arthur Harari
film profile], Kokoro [+see also:
film profile] and Gemma Bovery [+see also:
film profile]), the girl moves to France, where she discovers contemporary dance thanks to an exceptional teacher: Juliette Binoche, in the role of Liria, an enthusiastic choreographer (let's not forget that a few years ago, Binoche featured in a dance-drama with Akram Khan, one of the most innovative dancers on the global stage).
Liria is the person who will open young Polina's eyes, after realising that she is overly obsessed with her technique: “An artist has to know how to look at the world around them,” she tells her. And so begins Polina's third life, in Belgium, where she discovers the art of improvisation with choreographer Karl (Jérémie Bèlingard, an étoile at the Paris Opera), observes how people move as they walk down the street or sit in the bar where she waits tables, and realises that she no longer wants to be a mere performer of steps invented by other people, but rather a choreographer.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Bastien Vivès, Polina leaves little room for anything else; its focus is entirely on the passion of this wide-eyed girl of few words, but who possesses almost superhuman determination. And that is why, after following her entire journey from childhood, witnessing the result of her efforts – a performance that condenses everything she has learned up to that point, between the highs and the lows, and a million sacrifices – is a touching and highly poetic moment, besides being stunningly beautiful from both a choreographic and a musical point of view. This is a film for those who love dance, naturally, but also for those who wish to watch an uplifting story of personal fulfilment.
(Translated from Italian)