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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Polina is a coming-of-age drama about a young Russian ballerina who discovers after years of training that the Bolshoi isn't where she wants to dance after all -- and follows her instincts and dreams elsewhere. The Russian-French co-production should appeal to dance fans, but its intense protagonist and serious subplots may prove a bit too mature for tweens. There's a nongraphic sex scene, and unmarried characters live together. Expect more than a few scenes of adults drinking; in a couple of cases, they get buzzed. While violence isn't frequent, there's one disturbing scene in which armed men hold Polina's father at gunpoint and one of them suggestively touches Polina's face. Parents with teens can discuss the movie's themes of talent, practice, focus, perseverance, and success.
What's the story?
POLINA, a Russian-French drama, follows a young Russian ballerina, Polina (Veronika Zhovnytska), who works very hard to learn classical ballet and, as an older teen (now played by Anastasia Shevtsova), auditions to join the Bolshoi's company. While Polina isn't naturally the best classical dancer, she practices after hours with her exacting instructor, Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov) and perfects her technique. But then she goes to see a contemporary dance performance with Adrien (Niels Schneider), and it completely alters her life -- and career. Polina impulsively decides to give up her spot at the Bolshoi and head to the south of France to pursue a more modern style. In Aix-en-Provence, Polina and Adrien study under Liria Elsaj (Juliette Binoche), a renowned choreographer, until an injury and jealousy curb Polina's progress. In the film's final act, Polina moves to Antwerp, where she meets Karl (Jérémie Bélingard), an improvisational dance instructor who could be just the muse Polina needs.
Is it any good?
Although the majority of this ballet drama is as intense and humorless as its main character, it's worth watching for its realistic portrayal of a young artist coming into her own abilities. There's technical talent, and then there's passion. There's proficiency, even expertise, and there's also emotion. Polina learns and practices the former but has trouble with the latter. It's not until Liria kindly confronts her with the truth that Polina understands that sometimes determination and practice aren't enough if what makes you "you" isn't coming through in your art. Shevtsova -- like many of the main and supporting characters in Polina -- is a professional dancer, and this is her debut acting role. It's a large leading role for a non-actress to carry, and sometimes she's too blank a canvas to read. She's not nearly as evocative or expressive as Natalie Portman in Black Swan or the adolescent leads in Center Stage, but at times that quality works, given her character's training to stay in control of her emotions. But other times, viewers are left completely in the dark about what she could possibly be thinking or feeling.
The movie's married co-directors themselves are from the dance world, and it shows, because the film's best scenes are the ones featuring dancing. Whether it's the realistically difficult ballet lessons early in the story or the painstaking practices later in the film, the dancing is shot and choreographed in a mesmerizing way. The narrative is familiar territory, with a few twists added in to make Polina stumble before she can find her true artistic vision. Each stage of her life is a bit too focused on men (her doting father, who's willing to transport something shady to pay for her ballet school; her demanding dance instructor; her first boyfriend; and then her final boyfriend). But Binoche is brilliant (and beautiful) as a joyful contemporary choreographer who tries to teach Polina that dance outside of the strictures of ballet doesn't need to be pretty but rather real, raw, and a point of connection. While Polina may not land a place among the greatest dance movies of all time, it's a must-see for dance-film aficionados.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Polina compares to other dance/ballet-themed films. Do you think it's more important to have dancers who can act (as with the main characters in Polina) or to have actors who can dance, even if they need doubles for the more difficult choreography?
What messages does the movie send about people who spend nearly all of their time practicing and perfecting one talent?
- In theaters: August 25, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: January 9, 2018
- Cast: Juliette Binoche, Anastasia Shevtsova, Aleksey Guskov
- Directors: Valérie Müller, Angelin Preljocaj
- Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and dance
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
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