Dark and at times somewhat disturbing . POLINA marks the directorial debut of renowned French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj and his wife, filmmaker Valérie Müller.

The film is wonderfully, at times moodily photographed, with some glorious landscape shots, including a striking early solo outside in the snow against the backdrop of the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant , and later some enchanting use of mirrors and shadows and unusual angles. and much use of intimate closeup. The interior of the Bolshoi Theatre and school are glowingly portrayed.

The film’s sections of electronic score, by 79D, works well with the shift away from classical music to something more edgy and contemporary.

POLINA is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Bastien Vivès and is about a ballerina and her artistic development.

Veronika Zhovnytska plays Polina as a young
girl, whose supportive hardworking parents encourage her dream of one day dancing for the Bolshoi.

Rehearsal and classroom sequences are interwoven with Polina’s dreary daily life where the loving domestic harmony is disrupted by the menacing threats of her father’s creditors.

We see how the older Polina, as played and danced by Anastasia Shevtsova, of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, is driven by her passion for dance and strives for excellence.

After years of gruelling training, Polina realises her dream when, at the age of 18 she enters the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet.  There her life is dominated by the brusque, relentless, slightly sinister Bojinsky, the teacher and director of the company, played by Aleksei Guskov.

Also at the Bolshoi she falls in love with Adrien, played by the delightful and handsome Niels Schneider, a charming French dancer who drastically changes her life. Adrien awakens her desire for a new and inspired way of expressing herself, eventually leading to them auditioning for, and working in Aix en Provence, France, with the modern dance guru Liria Elsaj, played by Juliette Binoche.

Whilst Polina’s path is full of struggle and hardship, her persistence and inspiring talent lead her on to great things on her chosen path.

Eventually, Polina ends up in Antwerp where she is forced to work at a bar to make ends meet rather than dance, and it is clear something has gone very wrong .She lies to her parents but her father eventually finds out.

Liria is the person who transforms Polina’s vision.  “An artist has to know how to look at the world around them,” she informs her. It is at this point,  the third chapter in Polina’s life begins.

It is in Belgium where she explores the art of improvisation with choreographer Karl (Jérémie Bèlingard, an étoile at the Paris Opera), that she observes how people move as they sit in the bar where she works, or walk at the train station or down the street. It is then that she wants to become a choreographer. We see Polina and Karl work on a duet and the film ends on an inconclusive but hopeful note as they audition  the work for a major arts Festival.

There is much wondrous dance footage in both classical and contemporary, even some hip hop and break dancing  genres.

POLINA is a film about a very talented young woman striving to find her own ‘voice’. it is a film for dance lovers but also for any lovers of stories set around the search for personal fulfilment.

Running time – two hours. The film is in Russian and French with English surtitles.

POLINA is screening as part of this years’ French Film Festival which screens until the 30th March.