Parents' Guide to

Polina

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Affecting, intense dance drama has beautiful choreography.

Movie NR 2017 112 minutes
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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.

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