Authentic dancing and an effort to portray the inner struggle of a ballerina define “Polina,” co-direted by Valérie Müller and her husband, Angelin Preljocaj, from a graphic novel by Bastien Vivès. The dancing is more interesting than the story.
The film is fortunate to have in the lead as Polina, a real dancer, Anastasia Shevtsova, who was with the Marlinsky Ballet of St. Petersburg. We first meet Polina as a youngster (Veronika Zhovnytska), when she is being pressed by her parents to work hard to get into the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. Shevtsova takes over when the child matures.
It is not only the strain of trying to succeed that confronts Polina. She is troubled by the confines of classical ballet, and as the story progresses, her horizons broaden with aroused interest in modern dance forms. This is intensified when she is introduced to the work of a company from the south of France, the choreographer of which, Liria Elsaj is played by Juliette Binoche. Polina is persuaded by a dancer with whom she is romantically infatuated to follow that route. Her father is especially disappointed, for there is parental prestige connected with a daughter becoming a dancer with the Bolshoi.
The film is marked by a succession of very tough taskmasters making demands on Polina that shape her work and add to her discomfort as a dancer trying to come to terms with her talent. Despite the injected authenticity—co-director Preljocaj is a choreographer with his own company in France—the story smacks of cliché, and Shevtsova’s strength lies more in her talent as a dancer than as an actress.
But the film gains from its over-all sincerity in the effort to portray the world of dance with differences between classical and modern and the challenges that confront dancers who must make choices. For Polina, it turns out that ultimately becoming a choreographer is more suited to her expression of her talent and her peace of mind.
It is a difficult physical and emotional journey that we follow, and the dance experience adds to the visual and spiritual authenticity even though the story itself can become over-extended. A Oscilloscope Laboratories release. Reviewed August 25, 2017.