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POLINA, drama, not rated, in Rus­sian and French with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Polina is a dance film that takes some un­usual turns. Based on a graphic novel by Bastien Vivès, it be­gins by trac­ing the pre­dictable tra­jec­tory of a young girl on the way to be­com­ing a bal­le­rina in the Rus­sian tra­di­tion, start­ing with her first try­out, where she is stretched, prod­ded, and mea­sured like live­stock. Her mother and fa­ther make sac­ri­fices in or­der for her to pur­sue a ca­reer in dance, and she is ac­cepted at the Bol­shoi Bal­let Academy. But some­thing is off.

From the movie’s ear­li­est scenes, as the young Polina (Veronika Zhovnyt­ska) skips past huge smoke­stacks on her way home from class, and then stops to im­pro­vise an­i­mal-like moves and jazz steps in the snow, it is clear that she has her own dances, her own ideas. Polina has the abil­ity to in­habit the shapes of clas­si­cal bal­let but also a need to ex­press her­self. As a teenager (now played by ac­tress and for­mer Mari­in­sky Bal­let dancer Anas­ta­sia Shevtsova), she shows prom­ise at the academy, is given so­los, and stands up to the stern bal­let master. Join­ing the corps de bal­let of the Bol­shoi Bal­let is within her reach. Then she at­tends a per­for­mance of a French dance com­pany of­fer­ing a mix of mod­ern, bal­let, and Flash­dance. It is her first glimpse of con­tem­po­rary dance. When her boyfriend from the academy de­cides to travel to France to au­di­tion for the com­pany, she tags along.

Juli­ette Binoche plays the Twyla Tharp-like chore­og­ra­pher in Aix-enProvence where the young lovers are cast as leads in a dance (the film­maker and chore­og­ra­pher An­gelin Preljo­caj’s bal­let Snow White). Binoche gives an im­pas­sioned per­for­mance and dances won­der­fully in an ex­tended se­quence where she shows the dancers how it should be done. Binoche is a role model, but she is also harshly re­al­is­tic to Polina about her strengths and weak­nesses as a dancer. The young woman may say to her­self, “Polina from the Bol­shoi is over!” but it will take years to over­come the rigid train­ing. Dur­ing a pe­riod of re­cov­ery from an in­jury, she loses the role in the bal­let as well as her boyfriend.

Polina trav­els to Bel­gium and finds her­self alone. She gets a job at a bar, lies to her par­ents, and shares a room with a man she spots teach­ing dance to com­mu­nity mem­bers. With few words and a lot of cam­era move­ment, the movie fol­lows Polina as she waf­fles around look­ing for what to do next. We see the cre­ative re­sponses she even­tu­ally makes that lead her on a new path. Polina may never rise to bal­let star­dom, but ar­tis­ti­cally she comes into her own in An­twerp far away from clas­si­cal bal­let, the Bol­shoi, and ev­ery­thing she was raised to be­lieve in. — Michael Wade Simp­son

On point: Anas­ta­sia Shevtsova

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