Polina is a fairly predictable film about a young Bolshoi trained ballerina who leaves classical dance behind for the freedom of contemporary movement. What the film lacks in intrigue it makes up for in its thoughtful direction of the dance sequences. Directors Valérie Müller and Angelin Preljocaj capture the passion and creativity inherent in every dancer as they contort their bodies in every pose.
As a young girl, Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova) is trained to be, one day, a prima ballerina in Russia’s famed Bolshoi Ballet. But dance is expensive, and like most tales of this ilk, Polina is a protagonist that comes from meager circumstances. Her parents want nothing more for her then the Bolshoi so Polina’s father does whatever he can (legal and otherwise) to enable Polina’s training. And she’s a more than talented dancer, but what will plague Polina throughout the film is her lack of passion and feeling when she dances. Executing flawless choreography does not a dancer make, as her teachers remind her, “I want to see Polina dance.”
It’s not until she witnesses the free-flowing movement of contemporary dance that Polina starts to wonder if her calling lies beyond the classical. Before long she moves to France (there’s a boy involved too) and begins the journey to discover her own unique movement.
Polina is a fairly straightforward film with little frills in terms of plot but what is effective is watching Polina and the other dancers in the film explore their bodies in rhythm to the music and their surrounding space. Müller and Preljocaj staged a couple sequences that are fun to watch (the final scene is gorgeously shot) and contribute to Polina’s metamorphosis into the dancer she is meant to be. There are also some interesting shots of Polina witnessing the everyday world around her and garnering inspiration from mundane interactions between people. A homeless man writhes on a train platform, two women recognize each other from down the hall and embrace in a balletic twist of limbs. The moments are fleeting and I couldn’t help but wish there were more moments like that in a film that is otherwise commonplace.
Another element of note in this film is its use of music to invoke in the audience the experience of a dancer’s working method. When creating choreography a dancer feels every beat and moves spontaneously as the mood and moment hits them. It is a tricky detail to portray but the directors mostly pull it off. In early scenes, when Polina is a young girl walking home from practice a pulsating techno beat permeates the scene as the little girl prances, sways, and twists to the beat through the snowy landscape that surrounds her. Later, when she finds work in a club, it’s the same thrumming beat we hear as Polina is further driven to explore her body through contemporary dance. It’s a primal sound that naturally invades the body and urges movement in every way.
Polina is a finely crafted film that above all else offers audiences a glimpse into the world of passionate people who use dance to express the purest version of themselves and their art.
Polina opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.