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IDFA 2022

Review: Apolonia, Apolonia


- In her fascinating IDFA winner, Lea Glob starts off with one portrait of an artist and ends up with two

Review: Apolonia, Apolonia

Lea Glob followed the titular protagonist of her documentary Apolonia, Apolonia [+see also:
interview: Lea Glob
film profile
, painter Apolonia Sokol, for many, many years. So many, in fact, that it becomes hard to tell what actually captured her interest at first, during that very first meeting back in 2009. “She seemed familiar and like a stranger at the same time,” Glob says here. She still does.

This simple, intimate IDFA winner (see the news) – quite a departure following last year’s triumph of Sergei Loznitsa’s lengthy Mr. Landsbergis [+see also:
film review
film profile
– doesn’t set out to reveal anyone’s mysteries. It’s more about observing Apolonia’s personal struggles, more about accompanying her during that maddening time when you are just on the brink of something, anything, figuring out what it is that you would actually like to do. And here, it actually goes both ways, with Apolonia – looking like Sean Young’s long-lost sister – also filming Glob every once in a while. They are both curious about each other and about what life can bring them, it seems. They are equal.

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It's interesting that relationships with men, while implied, are kept in the background here. The most influential bonds are the ones that Apolonia shares with the theatre in Paris, where she grew up as a child, or with Ukrainian artist and Femen co-founder Oksana Shachko, a fascinating figure herself. When she loses the former, she seems utterly lost as an artist. You can be a “free spirit” and yet still long to be rooted somewhere, it appears. Once that’s gone, things get messy.

Soon, amidst a cacophony of different languages and conflicting advice, she goes from promising artist to burnout, trying to make it in LA, where it’s cheaper to buy the artist than the art, it’s said. There are some interesting insights into what it takes to make it in that market today, or any market, with Apolonia urged to paint faster and faster, and basically just spreading herself too thin. It feels like a valid point, easily applicable to so many other areas, journalism included. If you want to make it, you have to keep up the pace. But then, well, the work might suffer and others will notice. You can actually notice it yourself, too.

Such realisations make for a very complex portrayal, with hopes and frustrations clashing just about every minute. But Apolonia, Apolonia is still oddly uplifting. There is no avoiding excruciating pain here, or disappointments, but there is something so beautiful about watching young women being free to just try things out – walking the streets, taking in life, creating their own stories in cramped apartments. Are they free from the many pressures that society keeps reminding them of? Not really, not that generation. They still keep on asking others if it’s okay not to have kids, for example. It’s still mostly older, white men who are judging their work.

Perhaps the single most telling, but also heartbreaking, part of the film is when Apolonia hears – or, at least, that’s what she recounts – that she is more interesting than what she creates. She thinks it’s because she is a woman, and she might have a point. But, in some twisted way, it’s also why she works so well as the protagonist of a film. Glob can’t take her eyes off this woman, whether she is celebrating, breaking down or cutting her own bangs, and the feeling is frankly contagious.

But she is changing, too, growing, and when she finally says, “I am going to turn off the camera now,” it feels like a difficult yet necessary step for them both. Their stories are far from over, but this particular time in their lives? That’s gone. There will be other struggles, different – hopefully bigger – flats and friends, and who knows? Maybe Glob will turn that camera back on at some point.

Apolonia, Apolonia was produced by HBO MAX and Danish Documentary Production (Denmark), in co-production with Staron Film (Poland). Its sales are handled by CAT&Docs.

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