Movie, Reviews

“Polina” Freedom to Dance

One of the better art films to come out of Russia and France, Polina shows the determination by a young girl to buck the system and find a different direction in the world of dance. Taught at times, strong willed and conflict-ridden, the film has all the emotions, drama and flare that show an unconditional dedication to the arts.

Young Polina Shanidze age 8 (Veronika Zhovnytska) lives in Moscow, Russia with her parents Anton (Miglen Mirtchev) and Natalia (Kseniya Kutepova) who eke out a living. Her parents want her to have a better life, especially Anton who works a couple of jobs, one being a bit shady. Polina dreams of being a great dancer someday and wants to be a ballerina for the Russian Bolshoi Ballet.

Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov) gives Polina ronika Zhovnytska) some tips in POLINA

But to get there she has to excel way above all the other girls who have the same dream. Under the tutelage of noted choreographer Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov) she’s been dutiful for years and Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova), now much older, has worked her way up for an audition at a level of the Bolshoi.

Polina (Anastasia Shevtsova) and Adrien (Niels Schneider) in POLINA

Wanting more freedom from the classic style, Polina starts to wander toward a more freestyle dance. Directors Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj move their film along quickly at first then settle into the drama of the dance. Their ability to show the work involved to move up the ladder to greater heights in the world of dance is magnificent. But they have had a lot of help from their starlets who know how to dance and bring a lot of beauty and excitement of their craft to the screen as the central characters.

Angelin Preljocaj, a famed French dancer and choreographer puts Director Valerie Muller’s cast through their paces delivering a bounty of motion and emotion of the ballet and contemporary dance. He introduces Muller’s lively characters as Polina’s episodes are played out from early childhood to training and on to finding the love of contemporary dance. Muller also adds some hot romance between Polina and Adrien (Niels Schneider) that becomes part of the motive for Polina’s move to France.

Juliette Binoche as choreographer Liria Elsaj POLINA

The beginning sequence of showing Moscow as urban tenements alongside huge Chernobyl like nuclear power plants in the middle of winter, gives the film a foreboding feel. But as young Polina dances her way home through the snow with the cooling towers in the backgroud, it’s as if she doesn’t have a care in the world. Even the dance she does imitates an escape to freedom from her life of poverty. Other sets of the rehearsal rooms, the bars filled with workers and the gorgeous concert hall of the Bolshoi Ballet become a part of the young woman who breathes life into each sequence.

The acting makes the show and this one has two darling actresses in their first motion picture. Veronika Zhovnytska makes her debut as the 8-year-old fledgling dancer who toughs out rigorous practice sessions always looking forward. As she grows up she becomes Anastasia Shevtsova’s Polina who carries out the dramatic story of taking a chance at being a supreme dancer. Both actors are a testament to the hard work laid before them, each bringing Polina to life on the screen.

Director Valerie Muller on the set of POLINA

Rounding out the nicely cast film, Juliette Binoche plays Liria Elsaj a famous choreographer who takes Polina under her wing. She’s moved on from ballet to contemporary dance and mentors Polina for her greatest challenge. Binoche always has a huge screen presence and in Polina she brings about the finale with all the charm and grace needed for the final dance.

Polina has not been rated by the MPAA but contains some sexuality, language and a scene of violence. The film spools out in Russian and French with English subtitles.

FINAL ANALSIS: A wonderful find for the Film Festival Crowd and Arts Lovers.

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Anastasia Shevtsova, Veronika Zhovnytska, Juliette Binoche, Aleksey Guskov, Niels Schneider, Jeremie Belingard, Miglen Mirtchev, Kseniya Kutepova.
Directed by: Valerie Muller, Angelin Preljocaj
Genre: Drama, Dance, Romance, Foreign
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, contains language, mild violence
Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Distributed by: Oscilloscope
Released in: Russian and French with English subtitles

The comments within this review are the critic’s expressed opinions.

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Film Editor John Delia has been on all sides of the movie business from publications to film making. He has worked as a film critic with ACED Magazine for more than 12 years and earned a Bachelors degree in communications from the University of Florida. John is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association. Follow John on Twitter @staragent1 or send John a message at jdelia@acedmagazine.com