"Self-Discovery in a World of Expectation"
POLINA is a Russian and French production adapted from a Russian novel about a young girl’s artistic form of dance and her self-discovery of what that means to her.
Polina has grown up under her parents’ desperate desire for her to be a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi, but the question of the movie comes down to “What does POLINA want from her life?” She balances between robotically following those expectations with her own self-discovery through breaking rules, going her own way and realizing there’s more to life around her than what she grew up knowing: the rules and rigor in pursuit of the life of a prima ballerina.
The movie opens with an industrial cityscape and a young Polina auditioning to get into ballet school. As a part of the audition, she is physically measured and seen in her underwear and shirtless on a weight scale. She is asked by the instructor “What is dance to you?” to which she response “It just happens.” The purpose of the academy is to produce dancers who are a light as feathers and graceful on stage, dancers who know the tradition and skill of being a great ballerina, that, although dance is creative, it also requires a great deal of precision. Polina is depicted as a young girl who wants to go her own way. She is emotional and likes to dance in a heavier and more contemporary style. This causes her isolation at the academy, which eventually trains all these unwanted habits out of her.
As Polina moves up the ranks of academy and training facility, ultimately being accepted into the Bolshoi. She is depicted as cold and emotionless but graceful, the epitome of a prima ballerina.
After meeting a boy from France during a training class, she decides she wants to pursue modern dance and goes to France with him. She makes it into this new dance company and yet is being told to unlearn everything she’s been trained to do. To be heavier in her movement, to convey passion, emotion, desire, love, and even lust. Sadly, for her, Polina’s unable to communicate such emotions. In fact, she ends up losing her place in the company at the same time she discovers the boyfriend she left Russia to court is cheating on her.
Polina leaves and tries to audition for other dance companies, but is ultimately tired of being told her dancing is just not enough. Due to her inability to land a job, she spends some time on the streets sleeping in a laundromat, skipping out on paying a hotel bill due to lack of money, getting a job as a bartender, and then living with a man she sees teaching dance on the streets.
During this time, Polina continues to tend bar and simultaneously take classes from this choreographer turned roommate. The movie cuts back and forth between her life at the bar and at home. She drinks, serves people drinks and collapses in her bed. She sometimes gets drunk and becomes lazy, displaying a lack of motivation to do anything, including dance. Then, her roommate forces her to get out of the apartment. As they dance together along the river, Polina is shown as feeling alive again. He then suggests she and he choreograph something for an upcoming festival.
They begin working together until late at night, perfecting their planned dance. However, a family tragedy back in Russia endangers their upcoming audition before the festival’s master of choreography.
POLINA beautifully encapsulates the struggles of those pursuing an artistic vocation, but it also justifies poor choices with the idea that true success and discovery comes from spurning the wisdom of others in order to make your own path. Thus, the movie shows the strong work ethic and discipline it takes to be a successful dancer, plus the grit it takes to work through rejection and get better. However, in the midst of this, it also communicates what secular culture pushes, that one must break rules and do what they want when they want it in order to discover themselves. This includes disobeying one’s parents and instructors to find one’s “own path.” As such, POLINA the movie encapsulates the stereotypical life of a Romantic artist: Self-discovery due to heartbreak, pain and loneliness, and only through that discovering what your art means to yourself and to the world.
MOVIEGUIDE® advises strong or extreme caution for POLINA due to its Romantic worldview, which includes spurning the way you’ve have been raised by your parents, to seek selfish gain and creative fulfillment. Also, POLINA depicts sensuality as part of one’s journey toward self-discovery and self-fulfillment.
(RoRo, AC, V, S, NN, AA, D, MM) Strong Romantic worldview promotes emotional self-discovery as the end all and be all of a fulfilling life, with title characters breaking rules, making emotional decisions and not following the expectations of her parents, plus some implied anti-communist elements in movie’s depressing depiction of Russian society; no foul language; light violence includes gangsters come into house and threaten the father for not paying his debts, title character’s mother becomes upset her daughter is leaving her spot at the Bolshoi ballet school to pursue modern dance in France and throws all of daughter’s clothes out of her suitcase, title character discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, and she throws a fit in a changing room and trashes everything on the counter, woman’s boss at a bar gets beat up at the bar where they work; light sexual content includes two gangsters come into house and threateningly touch woman and her mother and tell father, “You have lovely women,” unmarried couple shown passionately kissing and taking off their clothes in the dressing room during a ballet class, unmarried couple eventually shown to be living together and sharing the same bed, two contemporary dancers emote love on stage with some light kissing, choreographer asks title character to communicate lust and desire for her dance partner through her dancing, female dancer and her co-choreographer are in a studio dancing and press each other against a mirror and kiss, and title character spends time outside the bar where she works with a few prostitutes though nothing explicit; partly obscured upper female and upper male nudity as unmarried couple takes off their clothes, young girl of 8-10 gets measured to get into a dance academy, and she is topless, and dancers wear tight-fitting leotards/costumes; alcohol use includes social drinking at dinner, scenes of title character tending bar and drinking (including drinking shots of alcohol), implied drunkenness; Polina’s boyfriend carries a cigarette as they walk through a park after a show, but no drugs; woman lies to her parent’s about being on tour with the Bolshoi academy, woman doesn’t appreciate the sacrifice her parents made for her dance education, woman’s father deals in illegal trading in the middle east (though never identified as what he trades) in order to provide financially for his wife and daughter, gangsters trash family’s home because of father’s inability to pay his debts, title character doesn’t pay a hotel bill due to a lack of money and at one point finds herself sleeping on the streets as she has no job and no home.
POLINA is a Russian-French production adapted from a Russian novel about a young girl’s artistic form of dance and her self-discovery of what that means to her. It chronicles the life of a young Russian girl named Polina as a young child in dance academy, her teenage years training with the Bolshoi Ballet, and her journey away from being a ballerina and toward being a modern/contemporary dancer and choreographer. It shows the challenges of being a professional dancer and the triumph of success when you can finally combine technical rigor with emotional depth.
POLINA the movie communicates the potential hardships of the artistic life, especially the emotional and physical rigor of ballet. It also captures the beauty of dance in a stark and visceral way, allowing viewers to see the ways that a dancer’s emotional personal life affects their performance on stage. Unlike modern dance movies that focus on trendy directing styles, POLINA just shows dance and focuses on its movement. POLINA is subtly and beautifully done, but MOVIEGUIDE® suggests extreme caution for its Romantic worldview, which promotes rule-breaking, sensuality and living together.